Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 520

History of Diving &



1.0 GENERAL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-1

1.1 FREE (BREATH-HOLD) DIVING . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-1
1.2 DIVING BELLS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-1
1.3 HELMET (HARD-HAT) DIVING . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-2
1.4 SCUBA DIVING. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-3
1.5 SATURATION DIVING . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-4
1.5.1 Saturation Diving Systems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-4
1.5.2 Habitats . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-5
1.5.3 Lock-Out Submersibles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-5
1.6 NOAA’S DIVING PROGRAM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-5
1.7 UNDERSEA AND DIVING RESEARCH . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-6
1.8 SUMMARY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-6
History of Diving
& NOAA Contributions 1
1.0 GENERAL divers of Korea and Japan (see Figure 1.1) are among the
Divers have penetrated the oceans throughout the cen- better-known breath-hold divers. In his book, Half Mile
turies for purposes identical to those of modern diving: to Down, William Beebe (1934) reports finding several
acquire food, search for treasure, carry out military opera- mother-of-pearl inlays in the course of conducting an
tions, perform scientific research and exploration, and enjoy archeological dig at a Mesopotamia site that dated back
the aquatic environment. In a brief history of diving, Arthur to 4500 B . C . These shells must have been gathered by
Bachrach identified major principal periods in the history of divers and then fashioned into inlays by artisans of the
diving: free (or breath-hold) diving, bell diving, surface sup- period. Beebe also describes the extensive use of pearl
port or helmet (hard-hat) diving, scuba diving, and satura- shells among people from other ancient cultures. The
tion diving (Bachrach 1982). This chapter also describes the Emperor of China, for example, received an oyster pearl
formation and contributions of NOAA’s Diving Program tribute around 2250 B.C. Free divers were also used in mili-
and the National Undersea Research Program. tary operations, as the Greek historian Thucydides reports.
Divers participated in an Athenian attack in which they cut
1.1 FREE (BREATH-HOLD) DIVING through underwater barriers that had been built to obstruct
Free diving, or breath-hold diving, is the earliest of all and damage the Greek ships. Free or breath-hold divers
diving techniques, and it has played a historic role in the sometimes used hollow reeds as breathing tubes, which
search for food and treasure. The Hae-Nyu and Ama pearl allowed them to remain submerged for longer periods; this
type of primitive snorkel was useful in military operations.


The second principal historical mode of diving is bell
diving. One of the earliest reports of the use of a device
that enabled a diver to enter the water with some degree of
protection and a supply of air involved the diving bell Col-
impha used in Alexander the Great’s descent in approxi-
mately 330 B.C. Aristotle described diving systems in use in
his time: “They contrive a means of respiration for divers,
by means of a container sent down to them; naturally the
container is not filled with water, but air, which constantly
assists the submerged man.”
In the 1500 years following this period, very few
developments occurred in diving. It was not until 1535
that an Italian developed a device that can be considered a
true diving bell. This open bell designed by Guglielmo de
Lorena actually worked. A diver worked for about an
hour exploring the bottom of Lake Nemi, Italy, for the
purpose of locating Trajan’s pleasure barges. In 1551,
Nicholas Tartaglia published an ingenious but impractica-
FIGURE 1.1 ble design (see Figure 1.2) for a diving apparatus consid-
Female Ama Diver ered to be an open bell. It consisted of a wooden frame like

Open-Water Diving Bell
(Circa 1551)

that of a gigantic hour-glass to which a heavy weight was

attached by a rope. A man standing in the frame, with his
head enclosed in a large glass ball, open only at the bottom,
was to wind himself down to the sea-floor by turning a
windlass on which the rope was coiled. What he could do FIGURE 1.3
when he got there is not very clear. KlingertÕs Apparatus (Circa 1797)
In 1691, the astronomer Sir Edmund Halley, then Sec-
retary of the Royal Society, built and patented a forerunner
of the modern diving bell, which he later described in a
report to the Society. As Sir Edmund described it, the bell 1.3 HELMET (HARD-HAT) DIVING
was made of wood coated with lead, was approximately 60 Although these early diving bells provided some protec-
cubic feet (1.7 cubic meters) in volume, and had glass at the tion and an air supply, they limited the mobility of the diver.
top to allow light to enter; there was also a valve to vent the In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a number of
air and a barrel to provide replenished air. It has been devices were developed to provide air to divers and to afford
thought that Halley undoubtedly knew of a development greater mobility. For example, a German named Klingert
reported by a physicist, Denis Papin, who in 1689 had pro- published in 1797 a design for a complete diving helmet and
posed a plan to provide air from the surface to a diving bell dress (see Figure 1.3). The diving helmet obtained air by
under pressure. Papin proposed to use force pumps or bel- means of a twin breathing-pipe led into the helmet opposite
lows to provide air and to maintain a constant pressure the diver’s mouth and was supported at the surface by a
within the bell. There was speculation that Halley’s choice float. However, no details were given on how the air was
of the barrel rather than the forced air method of replenish- “pumped” to the diver at depth. Unfortunately, most of
ment may have reflected Halley’s concern that Papin, also a these devices were not successful because they relied on long
Fellow of the Royal Society, would accuse him of stealing tubes from the surface to provide air to the diver and thus did
his concept. Halley’s method was used for over a century not deal with the problem of equalizing pressure at depth.
until John Smeaton introduced a successful forcing pump in The first real step toward the development of a surface-
1788. In 1799, Smeaton dived with his “diving chests,” supported diving technique occurred when the French sci-
which used a forcing pump to replenish the air supply. entist Sieur Freminet devised a system in which air was
Diving bells are used today as part of modern diving pumped from the surface with a bellows, allowing a con-
systems, providing a method of transporting divers to their stant flow of air to pass through a hose to the diver in the
work sites while under pressure and, once at the site, of water. This system is considered by many to be the first true
supplying breathing gas while the diver works. Both mod- helmet-hose diving apparatus. Freminet has been credited
ern-day open (or “wet”) and closed bells are clearly the with diving in 1774 with this device to a depth of 50 feet (15
successors of these ancient systems. meters), where he remained for a period of one hour.

1-2 NOAA Diving Manual

still the most widely used commercial diving method. The
use of mixed gas and the development of improved decom-
pression tables have extended the diver’s capability to work in
these depths. Although surface-supported diving has several
advantages in terms of stability, gas supply, and length of
work period, a major problem with this type of gear is that it
severely limits the diver’s mobility. This limitation has been
overcome in certain dive situations by the development of
the self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (scuba).


The development of the self-contained underwater
breathing apparatus (scuba) provided the free-moving diver
with a portable air supply which, although finite in com-
parison with the unlimited air supply available to the hel-
met diver, allowed for mobility. Scuba diving is the most
frequently used mode in recreational diving and, in various
forms, is also widely used to perform underwater work for
military, scientific, and commercial purposes.
There were many steps in the development of a suc-
FIGURE 1.4 cessful self-contained underwater system. In 1808, Frei-
Earliest Functional Helmet (Circa 1823) derich von Drieberg invented a bellows-in-a-box device
that was worn on the diver’s back and delivered com-
pressed air from the surface. This device, named Triton,
The first major breakthrough in surface-support div- did not actually work, but it did serve to suggest that com-
ing systems occurred with Augustus Siebe’s invention of pressed air could be used in diving, an idea initially con-
the diving dress in 1819. Around the same time, John ceived of by Halley in 1716. In 1865, two French
and Charles Deane were working on a design for a inventors, Rouquayrol and Denayrouse, developed a suit
“smoke apparatus,” a suit that would allow firefighters described as “self-contained.” In fact, their suit was not
to work in burning buildings. They received a patent for self-contained but consisted of a helmet using a surface-
this system in 1823, and later modified it to “Deane’s supported system with an air reservoir that was carried on
Patent Diving Dress,” consisting of a protective suit and the diver’s back and was sufficient to provide one breathing
a separate helmet with ports and hose connections for cycle on demand. The demand valve regulator was used
surface-supplied air (see Figure 1.4). Siebe’s diving dress with surface supply largely because tanks of adequate
consisted of a waist-length jacket with a metal helmet strength were not yet available to handle air at high pres-
sealed to the collar. Divers received air under pressure sure. This system’s demand valve, which was automatical-
from the surface by force pump; the air subsequently ly controlled, represented a major breakthrough because it
escaped freely at the diver’s waist. In 1837, Siebe modi- permitted the diver to have a breath of air when needed in
fied this open dress, which allowed the air to escape, into an emergency.
the closed type of dress. The closed suit retained the The demand valve played a critical part in the later
attached helmet but, by venting the air via a valve, pro- development of one form of scuba apparatus. However,
vided the diver with a full-body air-tight suit. This suit since divers using scuba gear exhaled directly into the sur-
served as the basis for modern hard-hat diving gear. rounding water, much air was wasted. One solution to this
Siebe’s diving suit was tested and found to be successful problem was advanced by Henry Fleuss, a merchant sea-
in 1839 when the British started the salvage of the ship man who invented a closed-circuit breathing apparatus in
Royal George at a depth of 65 feet (19.8 meters). 1879 that used pure oxygen compressed to 450 psig for the
No major developments occurred in hard-hat gear breathing gas supply and caustic potash to purify the
until the twentieth century, when mixed breathing gases, exhaled oxygen. Although his rebreather could be used
helium-oxygen in particular, were developed. The first under certain conditions, the depth limitations associated
major open-sea use of helium and oxygen as a breathing with the use of pure oxygen directed most attention to
mixture occurred in the salvage of the submarine, USS compressed air as a breathing mixture.
Squalus, in 1939. The breathing of mixed gases such as In the 1920s, a French naval officer, Captain Yves Le
helium-oxygen permitted divers to dive to greater depths Prieur, began work on a self-contained air diving apparatus
for longer periods than had been possible with air mix- that resulted in the award of a patent in 1926, shared with
tures. The surface-supported diving technique is probably his countryman Fernez. This device was a steel cylinder

History of Diving & NOAA Contributions 1-3

containing compressed air that was worn on the diver’s 1.5 SATURATION DIVING
back and had an air hose connected to a mouthpiece; the Although the development of surface-supplied diving
diver wore a nose clip and air-tight goggles that undoubted- permitted divers to spend a considerable amount of work-
ly were protective and an aid to vision, but did not permit ing time under water, divers using such systems for deep
pressure equalization. The major problem with Le Prieur’s and/or long dives incurred a substantial decompression
apparatus was the lack of a demand valve, which necessi- obligation. The initial development of saturation diving by
tated a continuous flow, and thus a waste of gas. the U.S. Navy in the late 1950s and its extension by naval,
In 1939, Dr. Christian Lambertsen began the develop- civilian government, university, and commercial laborato-
ment of a series of three patented forms of oxygen ries revolutionized scientific, commercial, and military div-
rebreathing equipment for neutral buoyancy underwater ing. This technique provided a method for divers to remain
swimming, which became the first self-contained underwa- at pressures equivalent to depths of up to 2,000 feet (610
ter breathing apparatus successfully used by a large number meters) for periods of days or weeks without incurring a
of divers. The Lambertsen Amphibious Respiratory Unit proportional decompression obligation.
(LARU) formed the basis for the establishment of U.S. mil- Divers operating in the saturation mode work out of a
itary self-contained diving. pressurized facility, such as a diving bell, seafloor habitat,
This apparatus was designated “scuba” by its users. or diver lock-out submersible. These subsea facilities are
An equivalent self-contained apparatus was used by the maintained at the pressure of the depth at which the diver
military forces of Italy and Great Britain during World will be working; this depth is termed the saturation or stor-
War II and continues today. The rebreathing principle, age depth.
which avoids waste of gas supply, has been extended to The historical development of saturation diving
include forms of scuba that allow the use of mixed gas depended both on technological and scientific advances.
(nitrogen-oxygen or helium-oxygen mixtures) to increase Engineers developed the technology essential to support
depth and duration beyond the practical limits of air or the saturated diver, and physiologists and other scientists
pure oxygen breathing. defined the respiratory and other physiological capabilities
A major development in mobility in diving occurred and limits of this mode of diving. Many researchers played
during the 1930s when French inventor, de Corlieu essential roles in the development of the saturation con-
developed a set of swim fins, the first to be produced cept, but the U.S. Navy team working at the U.S. Subma-
since Borelli designed a pair of claw-like fins in 1680. rine Medical Research Laboratory in New London,
When used with Le Prieur’s tanks, goggles, and nose Connecticut, is generally given credit for making the major
clip, de Carlieu’s fins enabled divers to move horizontal- initial breakthrough in this field. This team was led by two
ly through the water like true swimmers, instead of being U.S. Navy diving medical officers, George Bond and
lowered vertically in a diving bell or in hard-hat gear. Robert Workman, who, in the period from the mid-1950s
The later use of a single-lens face mask, which allowed to 1962, supervised the painstaking animal tests and volun-
better visibility as well as pressure equalization, also teer human dives that provided the scientific evidence nec-
increased the comfort and depth range of diving equip- essary to confirm the validity of the saturation concept.
In 1943, two other French inventors, Emile Gagnan 1.5.1 Saturation Diving Systems
and Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau, demonstrated their The earliest saturation dive performed in the open sea
“Aqua Lung.” This apparatus used a demand intake was conducted by Edwin Link (founding father of Harbor
valve drawing from two or three cylinders, each contain- Branch Oceanographic Institution) and his associates and
ing over 2,500 psi. Thus the demand regulator, invented involved the use of a diving bell for diving and for decom-
over 70 years earlier and extensively used in aviation, pression. Initial Navy efforts involved placing a satura-
came into use in a self-contained breathing apparatus that tion habitat on the seafloor. In 1964, Edwin Link,
did not emit a wasteful flow of air during inhalation. This Christian Lambertsen, and James Lawrie developed the
application made possible the development of modern first deck decompression chamber, which allowed divers
open-circuit scuba gear. in a sealed bell to be locked into a pressurized environ-
Scuba added a major working tool to the systems ment at the surface for the slow decompression from satu-
available to divers; it allowed divers greater freedom of ration. The first commercial application of this form of
movement and required much less burdensome support saturation diving took place on the Smith Mountain Dam
equipment. Scuba also enriched the world of sport diving project in 1965 and involved the use of a personnel trans-
by permitting recreational divers to go beyond goggles and fer capsule. The techniques pioneered at Smith Mountain
breath-hold diving to more extended dives at greater have since become standard in commercial diving opera-
depths. tions; saturated divers live under pressure in the deck

1-4 NOAA Diving Manual

decompression chamber on board a surface vessel, and (NMFS). A new NOAA component was created that
are then transferred to the underwater worksite in a pres- formed a series of Environmental Research Laboratories. In
surized personnel transfer chamber, also called a surface May 1971, these NOAA line offices met to develop opera-
decompression chamber. Although saturation diving sys- tional and reporting requirements to promote safety and
tems are the most widely used saturation systems in com- establish uniform diving regulations.
mercial diving today, two other diving technologies have A critical step to improve safety and versatility of
also taken advantage of the principle of saturation, name- manned undersea operations was the 1971 establishment
ly, habitats and lock-out submersibles. of the Manned Undersea Science and Technology Program
(MUS&T) to achieve a better understanding, assessment,
1.5.2 Habitats and use of the marine environment. The major objectives
Habitats are seafloor laboratories in which saturated included developing a NOAA civilian diving program as
diver-scientists live and work under pressure for extended well as advanced ocean floor observatories and sub-
periods of time. Habitat divers dive from the surface and mersible systems. The MUS&T Program assumed respon-
enter the habitat, or they may be compressed in a pressure sibility for all NOAA diving activities including planning,
vessel on the surface to the pressure of the habitat’s storage administering, and overseeing the NOAA Diving Program
depth and then be transferred to the habitat. Decompres- (NDP). Significant accomplishments included the estab-
sion may take place on the seafloor or in a surface decom- lishment of NOAA’s Diving Regulations, a Diving Safety
pression chamber after the completion of the divers’ work. Board, a Medical Review Board, and the preparation and
The most famous and widely used habitat was NOAA’s publication of the first edition of the NOAA Diving Manual
Hydrolab which was based in the Bahamas and Caribbean in 1975. A program was initiated in 1973 to develop fully
from 1972 to 1985 and provided a base for more than 600 equipped field centers of diving expertise which included
researchers from nine countries during that time. Hydrolab recompression chambers for emergency treatment and
now resides at the NOAA campus in Silver Spring, Mary- medical training.
land. The Aquarius, a more flexible and technologically Although the NOAA Diving Office was detached from
advanced habitat system, has replaced the Hydrolab as the MUS&T program in 1979, the internal structure has
NOAA’s principal undersea research laboratory and is been essentially unchanged. Present facilities include the
presently deployed in the Florida Keys National Marine NOAA Dive Center in Seattle, Washington, that has sever-
Sanctuary. al recompression chambers and a 40,000 gallon controlled
tank for equipment testing and training. Significant accom-
1.5.3 Lock-Out Submersibles plishments include the development of a NOAA diver data-
Lock-out submersibles provide an alternative method base to allow close monitoring of diver activity relating to
for diver-scientists to gain access to the underwater envi- certification maintenance. A standardized equipment pro-
ronment. Lock-out submersibles are dual-purpose vehicles gram integrated with this diver database has resulted in dra-
that permit the submersible’s pilot and crew to remain at matic cost savings and improved quality control and safety.
surface pressure, while the diver-scientist is pressurized in Other significant developments included diving safety,
a separate compartment to the pressure of the depth at physiology, and biomedical programs with the U.S. Navy,
which he or she will be working. The lock-out compart- underwater fatality statistics studies and accident response
ment thus serves as a personnel transfer capsule, transport- programs, polluted water diving research, and hot water
ing the diver to and from the seafloor. Lock-out diving studies. A major innovation by NOAA was the
submersibles have seen limited use since the 1980s. 1977 introduction of nitrogen-oxygen (nitrox) breathing
mixtures and decompression tables to the diving communi-
1.6 NOAA’S DIVING PROGRAM ty. Nitrox maximizes bottom time for scuba diving investi-
For over 40 years, NOAA and its predecessors have gators. The NDP also developed a system for preparing
played a significant role in the development and support of nitrox in the field.
scientific diving. Prior to the formation of NOAA in 1970, The NOAA Diving Program plays a critical role in the
most of the non-defense dive activities centered in the development and support of scientific diving for NOAA
United States Coast and Geodetic Survey (C&GS) and the and the United States. NOAA has more than 300 divers at
Department of Interior’s Bureau of Commercial Fisheries 40 locations and on 14 ships and has the largest comple-
(BCF). ment of divers of any civilian government agency. Averag-
When NOAA was formed in October 1970, the C&GS ing 10,000 dives annually, its exemplary safety record is
and BCF became two of NOAA’s major line components attributed to thorough training, adherence to established
with C&GS renamed the National Ocean Service and the standards and procedures, and the use of quality, well-
BCF became the National Marine Fisheries Service maintained equipment.

History of Diving & NOAA Contributions 1-5

1.7 UNDERSEA AND DIVING RESEARCH nearly 8,000 air, nitrox, and mixed-gas scuba dives
The creation of what is now known as the National addressing issues relating to ecosystem health, coastal
Undersea Research Program (NURP) was initiated with processes, and fisheries.
the 1977 genesis of NOAA’s Undersea Laboratory System NOAA has traditionally sponsored R&D programs to
(NULS), under the Manned Undersea Science and Tech- improve diver performance. Dive tables and training
nology (MUS&T) Program, to provide staffed underwater requirements developed by these programs are now world-
facilities and other research support. Later that year, wide standards. NOAA is the only federal program with
NULS deployed an undersea research habitat, Hydrolab, statutory responsibility to improve the safety and perfor-
to allow science missions off St. Croix, Virgin Island. mance of divers. Examples of NOAA’s diving research
In 1980, the MUS&T office was reorganized under program include fundamental hyperbaric physiological
NOAA’s Office of Undersea Research and became the research, operational procedures, safety, medical aspects,
Office of Undersea Research (OUR) which evolved into environmental impacts on divers, technology development,
NURP. At present, NURP supports extramural research and data dissemination. Active international programs
programs through scientists from marine and academic include the U.S.-Japan Cooperative Program on National
institutes carried out primarily through six National Resources (UJNR) Panel on Diving Physiology and Tech-
Undersea Research Centers. nology and the U.S./France Cooperative Program of
NURP is a comprehensive underwater research pro- Oceanography.
gram that places scientists under water directly, through
the use of submersibles, underwater laboratories, and 1.8 SUMMARY
scuba diving, or indirectly by using remotely operated vehi- Humans have explored the ocean depths at least since
cles (ROVs) and observatories. The in situ (in place) the fifth millennium B.C., and the development of the div-
approach allows acquisition of otherwise unobtainable ing techniques and systems described in this section
observations, samples, and experimentation related to reflects a human drive for mastery over all aspects of the
NOAA priority research objectives such as building sus- environment. The search for methods that will allow
tainable fisheries and sustaining healthy coasts. NURP humans to live comfortably in the marine biosphere for
also provides access for the United States research commu- long periods of time continues today, as engineers and sci-
nity to civilian, military, and international undersea tech- entists work together to make access to the sea safer, easi-
nology. In the past decade, NURP has annually supported er, and more economical.

1-6 NOAA Diving Manual

The NOAA Diving Manual was prepared jointly by the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce and Best
Publishing Company.

This CD-ROM product is produced and distributed by the National Technical Information
Service (NTIS), U.S. Department of Commerce.
Visit our Web site at www.ntis.gov.
Physics of
Diving 2

2. 0 GENERAL ........................................................................2- 1
2. 1 PRESSURE........................................................................2- 1
2. 1.1 Atmospheric Pressure..................................................2- 1
2. 1.2 Hydrostatic Pressure ...................................................2- 1
2. 1.3 Absolute Pressure.......................................................2- 1
2. 1.4 Gauge Pressure..........................................................2- 2
2. 1.5 Partial Pressure .........................................................2- 2
2. 2 DENSITY .........................................................................2- 3
2. 2.1 Specific Gravity.........................................................2- 3
2. 3 WATER ...........................................................................2- 3
2. 3.1 Freshwater ...............................................................2- 3
2. 3.2 Seawater..................................................................2- 3
2. 3.3 pH..........................................................................2- 4
2. 4 UNITS OF MEASUREMENT................................................2- 4
2. 4.1 Length ....................................................................2- 4
2. 4.2 Area .......................................................................2- 4
2. 4.3 Volume ...................................................................2- 4
2. 4.4 Weight ....................................................................2- 4
2. 5 TEMPERATURE................................................................2- 4
2. 5.1 Heat .......................................................................2- 6
2. 6 BUOYANCY (Archimedes’ Principle) ......................................2- 6
2. 7 GASES USED IN DIVING ...................................................2- 7
2. 7.1 Atmospheric Air ........................................................2- 7
2. 7.2 Oxygen (O2) ..............................................................2- 7
2. 7.3 Nitrogen (N2)............................................................2- 8
2. 7.4 Helium (He)..............................................................2- 8
2. 7.5 Carbon Dioxide (CO2).................................................2- 8
2. 7.6 Carbon Monoxide (CO) ...............................................2- 8
2. 7.7 Argon (Ar), Neon (Ne), Hydrogen (H2)............................2- 8
2. 8 GAS LAWS.......................................................................2- 9
2. 8.1 Boyle’s Law..............................................................2- 9
2. 8.2 Charles’/Gay-Lussac’s Law..........................................2-11
2. 8.3 Dalton’s Law............................................................2-11
2. 8.4 Henry’s Law .............................................................2-12
2. 8.5 General Gas Law.......................................................2-13
2. 9 MOISTURE IN BREATHING GAS........................................2-14
2. 9.1 Humidity..................................................................2-15
2. 9.2 Condensation in Breathing Hoses or Mask .......................2-15
2. 9.3 Fogging of the Mask...................................................2-15
2.10 LIGHT .............................................................................2-15
2.10.1 Colors .....................................................................2-15
2.11 SOUND ............................................................................2-16
Physics of Diving
2.0 GENERAL level. At sea level, atmospheric pressure is equal to 14.7
In all diving operations, safety is the primary considera- pounds per square inch (psi) or one atmosphere (atm). The
tion. One key to safety is a clear understanding of the physics higher the altitude above sea level, the lower the atmospher-
of diving. Physics is the field of science dealing with matter ic pressure. For example, at 18,000 ft. (5,486 m), atmos-
and energy and their interactions. This chapter explores pheric pressure is 7.35 psi, or half that at sea level (see
physical laws and principles that pertain to the diving envi- Figure 2.1). At sea level, atmospheric pressure is considered
ronment and its influence on the diver. Gravity is passive, constant and universal; that is, anywhere on the earth at sea
vision and hearing may be misleading, color perception level, the pressure is 14.7 psi. The pressure inside a person’s
changes at varying depth, and breathing dynamics are ever lungs is the same as the pressure outside.
changing. The principles of physics provide the keystone for
understanding the reasons for employing various diving pro- 2.1.2 Hydrostatic Pressure
cedures and the operation of associated equipment. Many of Pressure due to the weight of water is called “hydro-
these principles receive further elaboration in other sections static pressure.” The weight of water is cumulative; the
of the NOAA Diving Manual. deeper the dive, the more water there is above the diver
and the greater the weight of that water. This weight
2.1 PRESSURE affects a diver from all sides equally and increases at a
Pressure is force acting on a unit area. Stated mathemati- rate of 0.445 psi per foot of seawater. Thus, at a depth of
cally, 33 ft. (10.1 m) of seawater (fsw), the hydrostatic pressure
is 14.7 psi, or one atmosphere, the same pressure as
Pressure = force/area P = F/A atmospheric pressure at sea level. In freshwater, 34 ft.
(10.4 m) equals 14.7 psi or 0.432 psi per foot of freshwa-
In the United States, pressure is typically measured in ter (ffw). Thereafter, for every 34 ft. of additional depth in
pounds per square inch (psi). Under water, two kinds of freshwater, the hydrostatic pressure increases by one
pressure affect a person, the weight of the surrounding atmosphere (see Figure 2.1).
water and the weight of the atmosphere over that water.
One concept that must be remembered at all times is: a 2.1.3 Absolute Pressure
diver, at any depth, must be in pressure balance with the The sum of atmospheric pressure plus hydrostatic
forces at that depth. pressure is called the “absolute pressure.” Absolute pres-
At all depths, the diver must compensate for the pres- sure can be expressed in many ways, including "pounds
sure exerted by the atmosphere, by the water, and by the per square inch absolute" (psia), "atmospheres absolute"
gases being used for breathing under water. This compen- (ata), feet of seawater absolute (fswa), feet of freshwater
sation must always be thought of in terms of attaining and absolute (ffwa), or millimeters of mercury absolute
maintaining a balance between the pressure inside the body (mmHga).
and the external pressure. To understand the effects of absolute pressure on a
diver, consider this: the feet of a 6-foot tall man standing
2.1.1 Atmospheric Pressure under water will be exposed to pressure that is almost
Atmospheric pressure is the pressure exerted by the three pounds per square inch greater than that exerted at
earth's atmosphere; it decreases with altitude above sea his head.

1 sq. in. 1 sq. in.


A. A one square inch column

of air extending from sea level
to the top of the atmosphere
weighs 14.7 lbs. One half of
the weight is contained in the
first 18,000 ft. (5,486 m or
3 1/2 miles) of the column.

B. A one-inch square
column of seawater 33 ft.
(10.1 m) deep and a column of
freshwater 34 ft.(10.4 m) deep
each weigh 14.7 lbs.
7.35 lbs. at 18,000 ft. 1 sq. in.
C. At a depth of 34 ft. (10.4 m) Sea Level Sea Level
of freshwater, the sum of
atmospheric and hydrostatic
14.7 lbs. at Sea Level


pressures equal 29.4 lbs.

33 ft. 34 ft.


Weight 14.7 lbs.

Weight 14.7 lbs. 29.4 lbs.
Total weight of air and water at 34 ft.
FIGURE 2.1 A. B. C.
Weight of Air and Water

2.1.4 Gauge Pressure 2.1.5 Partial Pressure

The difference between atmospheric pressure and the In a mixture of gases, the proportion of the total pres-
pressure being measured is “gauge pressure.” Consider the sure contributed by each gas in the mixture is called the
pressure gauge on a scuba tank, for instance. The zero “partial pressure.” Although traces of other gases are also
reading on the gauge before it is attached actually repre- present in atmospheric air, for our discussion here, we can
sents the ambient atmospheric pressure. To put it another approximate that atmospheric air is composed of 21% oxy-
way, at sea level, the zero on the tank gauge actually repre- gen and 79% nitrogen, for a total of 100%, or one atmos-
sents 14.7 psia. Thus, the pressure in the tank is referred to phere absolute. The impact of partial pressures upon the
in terms of "pounds per square inch gauge" (psig). To con- diver is explained in detail later in this chapter under Dal-
vert gauge pressure to absolute pressure, add 14.7. ton's Law.

2-2 NOAA Diving Manual

The body can function normally only when the pres-
sure difference between the inside of the body and the out-
side is very small.

Density can be defined as weight per unit volume.
Expressed mathematically,

Density = Weight/Volume or D = W/V

Density is expressed in pounds per cubic foot (lbs/ft3) 1 ft3

1 ft3
or in grams per cubic centimeter (g/cm3).

Gas density is related to absolute pressure. As depth

increases, the density of the breathing gas increases and SEAWATER FRESHWATER
becomes heavier per unit volume. High gas density 64 lbs. per cu. ft. 62.4 lbs. per cu. ft.
increases the effort required to breathe and limits a diver’s
ability to ventilate the lungs adequately, especially during
strenuous exercise and at deeper depths (see Table 2.1). FIGURE 2.2
Freshwater has a density of 62.4 pounds per cubic Seawater and Freshwater Density
foot. Seawater has a density of 64.0 pounds per cubic
foot (see Figure 2.2). As a result, freshwater floats on top

of seawater and a diver floats easier in seawater than in

TABLE 2.1 freshwater.
Pressure Chart
2.2.1 Specific Gravity
Gas Gas
Depth Pressure Volume Density Specific gravity is the ratio of the weight of a given
volume of a substance (density) to that of an equal vol-
Sea Level 14.7 psia 1 ata 1ft3 1x
ume of another substance (water [for liquids and solids]
and air [for gases] are used as standards). Water has a
33 feet 29.4 psia 2 ata 1/2 ft3 2
specific gravity of 1.0 at 39.2°F (4C). Substances that are
66 feet 44.1 psia 3 ata 1/3 ft3 3
more dense than freshwater have a specific gravity
99 feet 58.8 psia 4 ata 1/4 ft3 4
132 feet 73.5 psia 5 ata 1/5 ft3 5
greater than 1.0. Thus, the specific gravity of seawater is
165 feet 88.2 psia 6 ata 1/6 ft3 6 64.0/62.4 = 1.026.
297 feet 147.0 psia 10 ata 1/10 ft3 10
1. Pressure of each atmosphere is equal to approxi- Physical laws that act upon a person above the sur-
mately 15 psi, i.e., at three atmospheres of pressure face of water also apply below the surface. As a diver
it is approximately 45 psi, at six atmospheres it is
approximately 90 psi, etc.
descends into the water, those forces increase; the diver
should be aware of these effects.
2. Gas volume is inversely proportional to the depth in
atmospheres absolute (ata), i.e., any gas volume at 2.3.1 Freshwater
four ata is one-fourth of the sea level volume; at six
ata it is one-sixth, etc.
Water, H2O, is a major constituent of all living mat-
ter. It is an odorless, tasteless, very slightly compressible
3. Gas density is directly proportional to the pressure liquid oxide of hydrogen, which freezes at 32°F (0C), and
in atmospheres absolute (ata), i.e., when a gas mix- boils at 212°F (100C). In its purest form, water is a poor
ture at sea level is taken to two atmospheres
absolute, each gas in the mixture is twice as dense;
conductor of electricity.
at three atmospheres absolute it is three times as
dense, etc. 2.3.2 Seawater
Seawater contains just about every substance known.
psia = pounds per square inch absolute Sodium chloride (common table salt) is the most abun-
ata = atmospheres absolute
dant chemical. Because of its components, seawater is a
good conductor of electricity.

Physics of Diving 2-3

2.3.3 pH 2.4.4 Weight
The pH of an aqueous solution expresses the level of The pound is the standard measure of weight in the
acids or alkalis present. The pH of a liquid can range from English System. The kilogram is the standard measure of
0 (strongly acidic) to 14 (strongly alkaline), with a value of weight in the International System of Units. One liter of
seven representing neutrality. The pH balance in blood sig- water at 4C weighs one kilogram or almost 2.2 lbs.
nals to the brain the need to breathe. Too much carbon
dioxide in the blood causes the pH level in the blood to 1 liter(l) = 1 kg = 2.2 lbs.
change, making it more acidic. One of the ways the body
Example: Convert 180 pounds to kilograms.
can reduce the acidity of the blood is to increase ventila-
Solution: 180 lbs × 1 kg/2.2 lbs = 81.8 kg
tion, which reduces the CO2 level and thus reduces the
acidity. The importance of pH in diving is covered in Chap-
Example: Convert 82 kilograms to pounds.
ter 3, Diving Physiology.
Solution: 82 kg × 2.2 lbs/1 kg = 180.4 lbs


How much air do we have? How deep are we? How Body temperature is a measure of the heat retained in
much longer can we stay on the bottom? Divers must have the human body. Heat is associated with the motion of
a common system of communicating the answers to these molecules. The more rapidly the molecules move, the high-
questions. er the temperature.
There are two systems for specifying force, length, and Temperature is usually measured either with the
time: the English System and the International System of Fahrenheit (°F) scale or with the Celsius, or Centigrade,
Units (SI), also known as the Metric System. The English (C) scale.
System is based on the pound, the foot, and the second, and Temperatures must be converted to absolute when the
is widely used in the United States. The International Sys- gas laws are used. The absolute temperature scales, which
tem of Units is used virtually everywhere else, and is based use Rankine (R) or Kelvin (K), are based upon the absolute
on the kilogram, the meter, and the second. Every diver zero (the lowest temperature that could possibly be
will eventually encounter the International System of Units reached) (see Figure 2.3). Note that the degree symbol (°)
and should be able to convert units of measurement from is used only with Fahrenheit temperatures.
one system to the other (see Tables 2.2, 2.3, and 2.4).

2.4.1 Length
The principle SI unit of length is the meter (39.37 inches).
Smaller lengths are measured in centimeters (cm) or millime-
ters (mm). Greater lengths are measured in kilometers (km).

39.37 in  1 ft/12 in = 3.28 ft = 1 m 212¡F 100C 373K 672R

Example: Convert 10 feet to meters.

Solution: 10 ft  1 m/3.28 ft = 3.05 m

Example: Convert 10 meters to feet.

Solution: 10 m  3.28 ft/1 m = 32.8 ft

2.4.2 Area
In both the English and International System of Units
32¡F 0C 273K 492R
(SI), area is expressed as a length squared. For example, a
room that is 12 feet by 10 feet would have an area that is
120 square feet (12 ft x 10 ft).

2.4.3 Volume
Volume is expressed in units of length cubed. Using the
room example from paragraph 2.4.2 but adding a third
dimension—an eight-foot ceiling would result in a volume
(¡F) (C) (K) (R)
of 960 cubic feet (120 ft2 x 8 ft). The English System, in
addition to using cubic feet, uses other units of volume such
as gallons. The International System of Units (SI) uses the
liter ( l ). A liter equals 1000 cubic centimeters (cm3) or FIGURE 2.3
0.001 cubic meters (m3), which is one milliliter (ml). Freezing and Boiling Points of Water

2-4 NOAA Diving Manual

Conversion Factors, Metric to English Units
To Convert To Convert
From From
SI Units To English Units Multiply By SI Units To English Units Multiply By
1 gm/cm2 inches of freshwater 0.394 1 gram ounce (oz) 0.035
1kg/cm2 pounds/square inch (psi) 14.22 1 kg ounces 35.27
1kg/cm2 feet of freshwater (ffw) 32.8 1 kg pounds (lb) 2.205
1kg/cm2 inches of mercury (in. Hg) 28.96
1 cm Hg pounds/square inch 0.193
1 cm Hg foot of freshwater (ffw) 0.447
1 cm Hg foot of seawater (fsw) 0.434 1 cm inch 0.394
1 cm Hg inches of mercury 0.394 1 meter inches 39.37
1 cm of freshwater inch of freshwater 0.394 1 meter feet 3.28
1 km mile 0.621
1 cc or ml cubic inch (in3) 0.061
1 m3 cubic feet (ft3) 35.31
1 liter cubic inches 61.02 1 cm2 square inch 0.155
1 liter cubic foot 0.035 1 m2 square feet 10.76
1 liter fluid ounces (fl oz) 33.81 1 km2 square mile 0.386
1 liter quarts (qt) 1.057

Conversion Table for Barometric Pressure Units

N/m2 or gm/cm2 Ib/in2

atm Pa bars mb kg/cm2 (cm H2O) mm Hg in. Hg (psi)

1 atmosphere = 1 1.013X105 1.013 1013 1.033 1033 760 29.92 14.70

1 Newton (N)/m2 or = .9869X10-5 1 10-5 .01 1.02X10-5 .0102 .0075 .2953X10-3 .1451X10-3
Pascal (Pa)

1 bar = .9869 105 1 1000 1.02 1020 750.1 29.53 14.51

1 millibar (mb) = .9869X10-3 100 .001 1 .00102 1.02 .7501 .02953 .01451
1 kg/cm2 = .9681 .9807X105 .9807 980.7 1 1000 735 28.94 14.22
1 gm/cm2 = 968.1 98.07 .9807X10-3 .9807 .001 1 .735 .02894 .01422
(1 cm H2O)
1 mm Hg = .001316 133.3 .001333 1.333 .00136 1.36 1 .03937 .01934
1 in. Hg = .0334 3386 .03386 33.86 .03453 34.53 25.4 1 .4910
1 lb/in2 (psi) = .06804 6895 .06895 68.95 .0703 70.3 51.70 2.035 1

Barometric Pressure Conversions
Units psig psia atm ata fsw fswa ffw ffwa
psig Add 14.7 Divide 14.7 Add 14.7, Divide .445 Divide .445 Divide .432 Divide .432
Divide 14.7 Add 33 Add 34
psia Minus 14.7 Minus 14.7 Divide 14.7 Minus 14.7 Divide .445 Minus 14.7 Divide .432
Divide 14.7 Divide .445 Divide .432
atm Times 14.7 Times 14.7 Add 1 Times 33 Times 33 Times 34 Times 34
Add 14.7 Add 33 Add 34
ata Minus 1 Times 14.7 Minus 1 Times 33 Times 33 Times 34 Times 34
Times 14.7 Minus 33 Minus 34
fsw Times .445 Times .445 Divide 33 Add 33 Add 33 Times 1.03 Times 1.03
Add 14.7 Divide 33 Add 34
fswa Minus 33 Times .445 Minus 33 Divide 33 Minus 33 Minus 33 Times 1.03
Times .445 Divide 33 Times 1.03
ffw Times .432 Times .432 Divide 34 Add 34 Times .97 Add 34 Add 34
Add 14.7 Divide 34 Times .97
ffwa Minus 34 Times .432 Minus 34 Divide Minus 34 Times .97 Minus 34
Times .432 Divide 34 34 Times .97

Physics of Diving 2-5

Either of the absolute temperature scales, Rankine or
Kelvin, may be used in gas law calculations.

To convert from Fahrenheit to absolute temperature 37C (98.6¡F)

Rankine, use the following equation: Body
°F + 460 = R
To convert from Celsius, or Centigrade, to absolute 30C (86¡F)
temperature Kelvin, use the following equation: Some type of
wet suit depending
C + 273 = K on time
The Fahrenheit (°F) and Rankine (R) temperature
scales are used in the English System. The Celsius (C) and
Kelvin (K) temperature scales are used in the International
System of Units. The Celsius and Fahrenheit scales are
based on the temperature of melting ice as 0C (32°F) and
24C (75ºF)
the temperature of boiling water as 100C (212°F).

To convert from Fahrenheit to Celsius, use the follow- Full wet suit
ing equation: range

C= 5/9 × (°F - 32) or C = .56 × (°F - 32)

10C (50¡F)
To convert from Celsius to Fahrenheit, use the follow-
ing equation:
Dry suit
°F = (9/5 × C) + 32 or °F = (1.8 × C) + 32 or hot-water suit
2.5.1 Heat
Water temperature is an important consideration in all
diving operations. Human beings function effectively within Freezing point
a narrow range of internal temperatures, becoming chilled 0C (32¡F)
of water
when the water temperature drops below 75°F (23.9C) and
overheated when body temperature rises above 98.6ºF
(37C). Below that temperature, body heat loss occurs faster FIGURE 2.4
than it can be replaced. A person who has become chilled Recommended Thermal Protection
cannot work efficiently or think clearly and may be more
susceptible to decompression sickness.
A cellular neoprene wet suit loses a portion of its insu-
lating property as depth increases and the material is com-
pressed (see Figure 2.4). As a consequence, it is often the buoyancy is positive and the object floats. If the
necessary to employ a thicker suit, a dry suit, or a hot weight of the displaced water is less than the weight of the
water suit to compensate for extended exposures to cold object, then the buoyancy is negative and the object sinks.
water. If the weight of the object is equal to the weight of the dis-
placed water, then buoyancy is neutral and the object is
2.6 BUOYANCY (Archimedes’ Principle) suspended. Neutral buoyancy is the state frequently used
A Greek mathematician named Archimedes deter- when diving.
mined why things float 2000 years ago. He established that Buoyancy is dependent upon the density of the sur-
"Any object wholly or partly immersed in a fluid is buoyed up rounding liquid. Seawater has a density of 64.0 pounds per
by a force equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the cubic foot, compared to 62.4 pounds per cubic foot for
object." This explains why a steel ship floats, but its anchor freshwater. Therefore, each cubic foot of seawater that is
does not. The more water displaced, the greater the buoy- displaced by a volume of air in a container has a lifting
ancy (see Figure 2.5). force of 64 pounds. The greater the density, the greater the
If the weight of the displaced water (total displace- buoyancy force. Thus, it is easier to float in seawater than
ment) is greater than the weight of the submerged body, in a freshwater lake.

2-6 NOAA Diving Manual

Components of Dry Atmospheric Air

6.5 Percent by Parts per
Component Volume Million (ppm)

Nitrogen 78.084
Oxygen 20.946
Argon 0.934
Carbon Dioxide 0.033
332 Rare Gases 0.003 30.00*
lbs. Neon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18.18*
Weight Helium . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5.24*
of Carbon Monoxide . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2.36*
barrel Methane . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2.0 *
84 lbs Krypton . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1.14*
Hydrogen . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0.5 *
Nitrous Oxide . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0.5 *
Xenon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0.08*
The partially immersed 84 lb. barrel with 332 lbs.
attached has displaced 6.5 ft3 of seawater.
Besides atmospheric air, divers use various mixtures
6.5 ft3  64 lbs/ft3 = 416 lbs of oxygen, nitrogen, and helium. In some diving applica-
tions, special mixtures of one or more of the gases may
416 lbs Ð 84 lbs = 332 lbs positive buoyancy be blended with oxygen. The physiological effects of
each gas alone, or in combination with other gases, must
FIGURE 2.5 be taken into account to insure that no harm is done to
ArchimedesÕ Principle body organs and functions. The so-called “inert” gases
breathed from the atmosphere, or those in gas mixtures
we breathe when diving, serve only to dilute and mix
An understanding of buoyancy serves the diver in a with oxygen.
number of ways. By using weights, by expanding the air
in a buoyancy compensator, or by increasing the size of a 2.7.2 Oxygen (O2)
variable-volume diving suit, a diver can manipulate his Oxygen is the most important of all gases and is one
buoyancy to meet operational needs. When working on of the most abundant elements on earth. Fire cannot
the bottom, for example, a slightly negative buoyancy burn without oxygen and people cannot survive without
provides better traction and more stability on the sea oxygen. Atmospheric air contains approximately 21%
floor. Buoyancy is also an invaluable aid to lifting heavy oxygen, which exists freely in a diatomic state (two
items in salvage operations. atoms paired off to make one molecule). This colorless,
odorless, tasteless, and active gas readily combines with
2.7 GASES USED IN DIVING other elements. From the air we breathe, only oxygen is
Air breathed on the surface (atmospheric air) is also actually used by the body. The other 79% of the air
the most common gas breathed under water. Gases react serves to dilute the oxygen. Pure 100% oxygen is often
in specific ways to the effects of pressure, volume, and used for breathing in hospitals, aircraft, and hyperbaric
temperature. medical treatment facilities. Sometimes 100% oxygen is
used in shallow diving and in certain phases of diving.
2.7.1 Atmospheric Air For storage in saturation and for deeper diving the per-
The components of dry atmospheric air are given in centage may be less; in fact, it may be too low to be safe-
Table 2.5. Depending upon the location and weather ly breathed at sea level. Mixtures low in oxygen require
conditions, atmospheric air may also contain industrial special labeling and handling to ensure that they are not
pollutants. The most common pollutant is carbon breathed unintentionally. Breathing a mixture with no
monoxide, often present around the exhaust outlets of oxygen will result in unconsciousness, brain damage,
internal-combustion engines. Diving safety is jeopardized and death within a few minutes. Besides its essential
if pollutants are not filtered from compressed air prior to metabolic role, oxygen is fundamental to decompression.
diving. Still, the gas can also be toxic. Breathing pure oxygen

Physics of Diving 2-7

under pressure may affect the central nervous system in 2.7.4 Helium (He)
short exposures, and various other parts of the body and Helium is used extensively in deep diving as a diluting
nervous system, particularly the lungs, from longer expo- agent for oxygen. Helium has a lower density than nitro-
sures. gen and it does not cause the same problems associated
Oxygen is the agent responsible for most oxidation with nitrogen narcosis. A lower-density gas, in deep div-
that takes place on this planet. The gas itself does not ing, reduces breathing resistance (see Section 2.2).
bum, nor does it explode. In order for combustion to However, helium does have several disadvantages.
take place there has to be oxygen, fuel, and a source of Breathing helium-oxygen mixtures impairs voice commu-
ignition. Material burns more vigorously in an oxygen- nication when diving by creating the "Donald Duck" voice.
enriched environment, and a great deal faster and more Helium also has a high thermal conductivity, which can
intensely in pure oxygen. With several methods for mix- cause rapid heat loss from the body, especially via the res-
ing gases, it is necessary to handle pure oxygen appropri- piratory system.
Oxygen comes in three basic grades: aviator’s oxy- 2.7.5 Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
gen (Grade A), medical/industrial oxygen (Grade B or Carbon dioxide is a natural by-product of metabolism that
USP grade [Medical Grade]), and technical oxygen is eliminated from the body by breathing. Although generally
(Grade C). Aviator’s oxygen is ultra-dry in order to pre- not considered poisonous, excessive carbon dioxide can cause
vent freezing of regulators, but otherwise it is the same unconsciousness that can be fatal for divers. The two major
as medical oxygen. Technical (welding) oxygen comes concerns with carbon dioxide are control of the quantity in the
from the same source as medical, but the containers may breathing supply, and its removal after exhalation. Elevated
not be evacuated prior to filling and may contain pre- carbon dioxide levels may further predispose a diver to nitro-
existing contaminants and objectionable odors; accord- gen narcosis, oxygen toxicity, and decompression sickness.
ingly, it is not recommended for diving. However, if this Carbon dioxide is considered biologically “active” since
is the only oxygen available in a case where decompres- it directly influences the pH level of blood. In addition, recent
sion sickness needs to be treated, it is far better to use advances in medicine indicate that carbon dioxide may be
technical oxygen than not to breathe oxygen when it is involved chemically in changes with dilation of blood vessels.
needed. Significant contamination in oxygen is quite With divers using closed or semi-closed breathing sys-
rare. Oxygen cylinders should never be completely emp- tems, it is absolutely essential to remove carbon dioxide
tied, but should be maintained with a minimum of 25 from the breathing gas.
psi cylinder pressure to prevent contamination from
entering the cylinder. 2.7.6 Carbon Monoxide (CO)
In the United States, oxygen is shipped in gas cylinders Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas which interferes
that are color-coded green. This is the only gas for which with the blood's ability to carry oxygen. Because it is color-
there is a uniform color-coding, and this green color less, odorless, and tasteless, it is difficult to detect and it
applies only in the U.S. Color-coding should never be acts as a cellular poison. It is produced by the incomplete
relied upon to make positive identification of the gas in combustion of fuels and is most commonly found in the
any cylinder. If the oxygen is Grade A or B, the label on exhaust of internal-combustion engines, and by overheated
the cylinder should clearly state this; Grade C may have no oil-lubricated compressors.
identification other than that it is oxygen. The usual carbon monoxide problem for divers is conta-
mination of the air supply because the compressor intake is
2.7.3 Nitrogen (N2) too close to the compressor-motor exhaust. The exhaust
Nitrogen gas, which forms the largest proportion of the gases, including carbon monoxide, are sucked in with the air
air we breathe, is also taken through the lungs into the at the intake of the compressor. The effects can be lethal.
blood stream, but it plays no part in metabolism. In breath-
ing air under pressure it is the nitrogen portion that plays 2.7.7 Argon (Ar), Neon (Ne), Hydrogen (H2)
the major role in decompression. For diving, nitrogen may Argon, neon, and hydrogen have been used experimen-
be used to dilute oxygen, but it has several disadvantages tally to dilute oxygen in breathing-gas mixtures, but nor-
compared with other gases. When breathed at increased mally these gases are not used in diving operations. Argon
partial pressures, typically at least 100 ft. (31m) or deeper, has narcotic properties and a density that make it inappro-
it has a distinct anesthetic effect, producing an intoxicated priate for use as a breathing gas. However, it is frequently
state characterized by a loss of judgment and disorientation used for inflation of variable-volume dry suits for warmth,
called nitrogen narcosis. because its higher density reduces the conduction of heat.

2-8 NOAA Diving Manual

Neon causes less voice distortion than helium and has Example 1 - Boyle’s Law
lower thermal conductivity. As a breathing gas, however, Transposing to determine the volume (V2) at 33 ft.:
neon is expensive and causes increased breathing resistance
at moderate or heavy workloads. P1 V1
V2 = P2
Hydrogen has two important advantages as a breath-
ing gas: it is readily available and it produces less breathing
resistance at depth than other gases. However, the explo- P1 = 1 ata
P2 = 2 ata
sive properties of hydrogen are a significant disadvantage.
V1 = 24 ft3
2.8 GAS LAWS 1 ata × 24 ft3
V2 = 2 ata
Definitions have been provided of terms, units of mea-
surement, and the properties of the gases divers use under V2 = 12 ft3
water. What follows are various physical laws that directly
and indirectly affect underwater activity. NOTE: The volume of air in the open bell has been com-
Gases are subject to three interrelated factors: pressure, pressed from 24 to 12 ft3 in the first 33 ft. of water.
volume, and temperature. A change in one results in a mea-
surable change in the others. This is true whether we are deal- Example 2 - Boyle’s Law
ing with a pure gas or with a gas mixture. The relationships Using the method illustrated above to determine the air
among these three factors have been defined as the gas laws. volume at 66 ft.:
A diver needs a basic understanding of the gas laws. As
a diver moves up and down the water column, pressure P1 V1
V3 = P
changes affect the air in dive equipment and in the diver’s 3
P3 = 3 ata
lungs. It is also essential to determine whether the air com-
pressor on deck has the capacity to deliver an adequate sup- 1 ata × 24 ft3
V3 = 3 ata
ply of air to a proposed operating depth, and to be able to
interpret the reading on the depth gauge of the pneumofath- V3 = 8 ft3
ometer hose as conditions of temperature and depth vary.

2.8.1 Boyle’s Law NOTE: The volume of air in the open bell has been com-
"For any gas at a constant temperature, the volume of the pressed from 24 to 8 ft3 at 66 ft.
gas will vary inversely with the pressure." If an inverted
Example 3 - Boyle’s Law
bucket is filled with air at the surface where the pressure is
For the 99 ft. depth, using the method illustrated previ-
one atmosphere (14.7 psi), and then taken under water to a
ously, the air volume would be:
depth of 33 fsw (10.1 msw), or two atmospheres (29.4 psi),
it will be only half full of air. Any compressible air space, P1 V1
whether it is in a diver’s body or in a flexible container, V4 =
will change its volume during descent and ascent. Ear and
sinus clearing, diving mask volume, changes in buoyancy, P4 = 4 ata
functioning of a scuba regulator, descent or ascent, air con-
sumption, decompression—all are governed by Boyle's 1 ata × 24 ft3
V4 =
Law (see Figure 2.6). 4 ata

Examples of Boyle’s Law V4 = 6 ft3

An open-bottom diving bell with a volume of 24 cubic How is it that a breath-hold diver can return to the surface
feet is lowered into the water from a surface support ship. from a depth of several hundred feet with no problem, but a
No air is supplied to or lost from the bell. Calculate the vol- scuba diver at a very shallow depth who comes to the surface
ume of the air space in the bell at depths of 33, 66, and 99 holding his breath may develop an air embolism and die?
fsw (10.1, 20.3, and 30.4 msw, respectively). Assume that a breath-hold diver is going from the sur-
face down to 99 ft. During descent, the gas in his lungs will
Boyle’s Equation: be compressed, until at 99 ft. it will be reduced to one-
P1 V1 = P2 V2 fourth the original volume. As he ascends, the volume of
P1 = initial pressure surface absolute gas in his lungs expands back to the original amount, thus
V1 = initial volume in cubic feet (ft3) there is no change in the original volume.
P2 = final pressure absolute A scuba diver at 99 ft. is in a pressure/volume balance
V2 = final volume in cubic feet (ft3) with his environment. He takes a breath of air, discards his

Physics of Diving 2-9


Vol = 1 or 100% 100%

SEA 1 ata or 14.7 psia

33 ft. 2 ata or 29.4 psia 1/2

10.1 m 50%

66 ft. 3 ata or 44.1 psia 1/3

20.1 m 331/3%

99 ft. 4 ata or 58.8 psia

30.2 m

132 ft. 5 ata or 73.5 psia

40.2 m

297 ft. 10 ata or 147 psia 1/10

90.5 m


ata = atmospheres absolute

psia = pounds per square inch absolute

BoyleÕs LawApplied to Depth Versus Volume and Pressure

2-10 NOAA Diving Manual

scuba gear and ascends holding his breath. As he ascends, Stated mathematically:
his body is affected by Boyle's Law. By the time he reaches
33 ft., the air in his lungs will have increased in volume to P1 T1
= (volume constant)
match the decrease in water pressure. If he continues to
P2 T2
ascend without releasing air from his lungs, the effect of
increasing volume in his lungs may actually rupture the P1 = 3,014.7 psia
lungs with fatal consequences. T1 = 64°F + 460 = 524 Rankine
T2 = 102°F + 460 = 562 Rankine
2.8.2 Charles’/Gay-Lussac’s Law P2 = Unknown
Temperature has an effect on the pressure and volume of
a gas. It is essential to know the effect of temperature since Transposing:
temperature at depth is often different from that at the surface.
"For any gas at a constant pressure, the volume of the gas P1T2
will vary directly with the absolute temperature or for any gas P2 =
at a constant volume, the pressure of the gas will vary directly T1
with the absolute temperature."
3,014.7 psia × 562 R
P2 =
Example 1: Charles’ Law – Volume Change 524 R
To illustrate Charles’ Law, consider a balloon with the P2 = 3,233.3 psia
capacity of 24 ft3 of air which is lowered into the water to a
depth of 99 ft. At the surface the temperature is 80°F, at depth Converting to gauge pressure yields:
the temperature is 45°F. What is the volume of the gas at 99 ft?
From Example 3 in the illustration of Boyle’s Law 3,233.3 psia - 14.7 psi = 3,218.6 psig
above, we know that the volume of the gas (24 ft3) was
compressed to six cubic feet when lowered to the 99 ft. Note that a scuba cylinder is a non-flexible, constant-
level. The application of Charles’ equation illustrates the volume container. As kinetic energy increases with
further reduction of volume due to temperature effects. increased temperature, the molecules travel faster. They hit
the vessel walls harder and more often. This means pressure
Charles’ Equation: within the cylinder increases as the temperature is raised,
and there is an increase in pressure associated with heating
V1 T1 a scuba cylinder. To prevent this increase in pressure (and
= (pressure remains constant)
V2 T2 possible rupture of the scuba valve safety disc), it is especial-
ly important to store full scuba cylinders in a cool place.
V1 = volume at 99 ft. = 6 ft3 2.8.3 Dalton’s Law
T1 = 80°F + 460 = 540 Rankine The human body has a wide range of reactions to vari-
T2 = 45°F + 460 = 505 Rankine ous gases or mixtures under different conditions of pres-
V2 = unknown sures. Dalton’s Law is used to compute the partial pressure
differences between breathing at the surface and breathing
Transposing: at various depths in the water.
V1T2 "The total pressure exerted by a mixture of gases is equal
V2 =
T1 to the sum of the pressures of each of the different gases making
up the mixture, with each gas acting as if it alone was present
6 ft3 × 505 R and occupied the total volume." In other words, the whole is
V2 =
540 R equal to the sum of the parts, and each part is not affected
by any of the other parts.
V2 = 5.61 ft3 According to Dalton’s Law, the total pressure of a
NOTE: The volume within the balloon at 99 ft. was mixture of gases is the sum of the partial pressures of the
reduced further due to the drop in temperature. components of the mixture.
Stated mathematically:
Example 2: Gay-Lussac’s Law – Pressure Change
A scuba cylinder contains 3,000 psig (3,014.7 psia) at Pt = PP1 + PP2 + PP3, etc
64ºF. It is left on the boat deck on a hot summer day.
What will the cylinder pressure be if the temperature of the Pt = Total Pressure
air inside reaches 102ºF? PP1, etc. = Partial Pressure of the first gas, etc.

Physics of Diving 2-11

Partial pressure of a given quantity of a particular gas Observe in Tables 2.6 and 2.7 that, while the partial
is the pressure it would exert if it alone occupied the total pressures of some constituents of the air (particularly CO2)
volume. The figure Px is used to indicate partial pressure. were negligible at 14.7 psi, these partial pressures have
The subscript x represents the specific gas (i.e. PO2 for the increased to significant levels at 2,000 psi.
partial pressure of oxygen). To determine the partial pres- The implications for divers are important. If surface air
sure of a gas in a mixture, use the following equation: is contaminated with 2% (PCO2 .02 ata) of carbon dioxide,
a level a person can easily accommodate at one atm, the
Partial Pressure = (Percent of Component) × (Total Pres- partial pressure at depth will be dangerously high.
sure [absolute]) The Dalton’s Law correlation in gas density with oxy-
gen and nitrogen richness is illustrated in Figure 2.7.
Stated mathematically:
2.8.4 Henry’s Law
Px = Gas % × Pt "The amount of any given gas that will dissolve in a liquid
at a given temperature is proportional to the partial pressure of
(The pressure can be stated in psi, atm, etc.) that gas in equilibrium with the liquid and the solubility
Gas % = Percent of Component (decimal) coefficient of the gas in the particular liquid." If one unit of
Pt = Total Pressure gas is dissolved at one atm, then two units will be dissolved
Px = Partial Pressure of Gas at two atm, three units at three atm, etc.

Imagine a container at atmospheric pressure (1 atm or Henry’s Law stated mathematically:

14.7 psi). If the container is filled with oxygen alone, the
VG = oc P
partial pressure of the oxygen will be 14.7 psi (1 atm). If VL 1
the container is filled with dry atmospheric air, the total
pressure will also be 14.7 psi (1 atm), as the partial pres- where
sures of all the constituent gases contribute to the total VG = Volume of gas dissolved at STPD
pressure (see Table 2.6). (standard temperature pressure dry)

Example 1: Dalton’s Law VL = Volume of the liquid

Calculate the partial pressure of nitrogen in a total
oc = Solubility coefficient at specified
mixture as follows:
Px = Gas % (decimal) × Pt P1 = Partial pressure of that gas above the liquid

PN2 = .7808 × 14.7 psi = 11.478 psi When a gas-free liquid is first exposed to a gas mix-
ture, gas molecules will diffuse into the solution, pushed by
or in atmospheres: the partial pressure of each individual gas. As the gas mole-
cules enter the liquid, they add to a state of “gas tension,”
PN2 = .7808 × 1.0 atm = .7808 atm a way of identifying the partial pressure of the gas in the
liquid. The difference between the gas tension and the par-
If a scuba cylinder is filled to 2,000 psi with atmos-
tial pressure of the gas outside the liquid is called the pres-
pheric air, the partial pressure of the various components
sure gradient, which gives an indication of the net rate at
will reflect the increased pressure in the same proportion as
which the gas tends to enter or leave the solution. When
their percentage of the gas (see Table 2.7).
the gradient for diffusion into tissue is high, with low ten-
sion and high partial pressure, the rate of absorption into
Example 2: Dalton’s Law
the liquid is high. As the number of gas molecules in the
What is the partial pressure of nitrogen within the
liquid increases, the gas tension increases until it reaches
scuba cylinder filled to 2,000 psi?
an equilibrium value equal to the outside partial pressure.
Px = Gas % (decimal) × Pt At that point, the liquid is “saturated” with the gas mole-
cules, and the pressure gradient is zero. Unless there is
PN2 = .7808 × 2,000 psi = 1,561.6 psi some change in temperature or pressure, the net rate at
which gas molecules enter or leave the liquid will be zero,
or in atmospheres: and the two states will remain in balance.
How does this phenomenon apply to divers? To begin
PN2 = 2,000 psi × 1 atm/14.7 psi = 136.05 atm with, a large percentage of the human body is water.
Whenever a gas is in contact with a liquid, a portion of the
PN2 = .7808 × 136.05 atm = 106.23 atm gas will dissolve in the liquid until equilibrium is reached.

2-12 NOAA Diving Manual

Air at 14.7 psi (1 atm) Air at 2,000 psi (136.05 atm)

Percent of Partial Pressure Partial Pressure Percent of Partial Pressure Partial Pressure
Air component atm psi Air component atm psi

N2 78.08% .7808 atm 11.478 psi N2 78.08% 106.23 atm 1561.6 psi
O2 20.95% .2095 atm 3.080 psi O2 20.95% 28.50 atm 419.0 psi
CO2 .03% .0003 atm .004 psi CO2 .03% .04 atm .6 psi
Other .94% .0094 atm .138 psi Other .94% 1.28 atm 18.8 psi

Total 100.00% 1.000 atm 14.700 psi Total 100.00% 136.05 atm 2000.0 psi

Air Composition Partial Pressure % Density

PPO2 = 0.2 ata O2 = 20%
1 ata PPN2 = 0.8 ata N2 = 80%
sea level
Absolute Pressure in Atmospheres

Pt = 1.0 ata Total = 100%

PPO2 = 0.4 ata O2 = 20% Twice as dense
2 ata PPN2 = 1.6 ata N2 = 80% as the surface at
33 ft
Pt = 2.0 ata Total = 100% 2.0 ata - 33 fsw
PPO2 = 0.6 ata O2 = 20% Three times as
3 ata PPN2 = 2.4 ata N2 = 80% dense as the surface
66 ft Pt = 3.0 ata Total = 100% at 3.0 ata - 66 fsw
PPO2 = 0.8 ata O2 = 20% Four times as dense
4 ata PPN2 = 3.2 ata N2 = 80% as the surface at
99 ft
Pt = 4.0 ata Total = 100% 4.0 ata - 99 fsw
Partial pressure of a 20/80
mixture of oxygen/nitrogen at 1 = O2 PP = Partial Pressure Pt = Total Pressure
ata (sea level), 2 ata (33 feet), 3 = N2
ata (66 feet), and 4 ata (99 feet)

Partial Pressure

Gas can dissolve in water and fat in the human body as The amount of gas dissolved is also governed by the length of
they make up a large percentage of the body’s total mass. time and the pressure at which you breathe it. However, as
The deeper one dives, the greater the pressure exerted upon gases vary in their solubility, the exact amount dissolved
the body, and the higher the total pressure of the breathing depends on the specific gas in question. If a diver breathes a
gas. It follows that more gas will dissolve in the body tis- gas long enough, his body will become saturated; but this
sues. During ascent, the dissolved gases will begin to be occurs slowly. Depending on the gas, it will take anywhere
released. from 8 to 24 hours.
If a diver’s rate of ascent (including decompression Some gases are more soluble than others and some liq-
stops) is controlled properly, the dissolved gas will be car- uids are better solvents than other liquids. For example,
ried to the lungs by the tissue’s blood supply and will be nitrogen is five times more soluble (on a weight-for-weight
exhaled before it accumulates and forms bubbles in the tis- basis) in fat than in water. These facts and the differences
sues. If, on the other hand, ascent is too rapid and/or in blood supply have led to the postulate of tissues with dif-
decompression stops are missed or reduced so that the ferent saturation halftimes (5-minute tissues, 10-minute tis-
pressure is reduced at a rate higher than the body can sues, 20-, 40-, 75-, etc.). This serves as the basis for
accommodate, gas bubbles may form, disrupting body tis- calculating decompression tables.
sues and systems, and producing a condition known as
decompression sickness (the bends). 2.8.5 General Gas Law
The various gases are dissolved in the body in proportion Pressure, volume, and temperature are interrelated. A
to the partial pressure of each gas in the breathing medium. change in one factor must be balanced by a change in one

Physics of Diving 2-13

1 atm The general gas law is stated mathematically as fol-
80¡F 60¡F 40¡F
P1 V1 P2 V2
T1 T2

P1 = initial pressure (absolute)
V1 = initial volume
20.0 19.3 18.5 T1 = initial temperature (absolute)

2 atm
80¡F 60¡F 40¡F P2 = final pressure (absolute)
V2 = final volume
T2 = final temperature (absolute)

Example of General Gas Law:

Consider the open diving bell of 24 ft3 capacity low-
ered to 99 ft. in seawater. Surface temperature is 80°F and
depth temperature is 45°F. Determine the volume of the
10.0 9.6 9.3
gas in the bell at depth.

3 atm The General Gas Law states:

80¡F 60¡F 40¡F
P1 V1 P2 V2
T1 T2

P1 = 14.7 psia
V1 = 24 ft3
6.6 6.4 6.2 T1 = 80°F + 460 = 540 Rankine
P2 = 58.8 psia
Imagine a uniform-bore tube, sealed on one end, is inverted T2 = 45°F + 460 = 505 Rankine
in a container of water at 80¡F and one atmosphere. The vol- V2 = Unknown
ume of air in the tube will be affected by changes in tempera-
ture and pressure in accordance to the following gas laws:
P1 V1 T2
CharlesÕ Law: Transposing: V2 =
(A, B, C) (D, E, F) (G, H, I) illustrate the reduction in volume T1 P2
caused by a reduction temperature at a constant pressure.

BoyleÕs Law: (14.7 psia) (24 ft3) (505 R)

V2 =
(A, D, G) (B, E, H) (C, F, I) illustrate the reduction in volume (540 R) (58.8 psia)
caused by an increased pressure at a constant temperature.

The General Gas Law (CharlesÕ and BoyleÕs Laws Com- V2 = 5.61 ft3
(A, E, I) (C, E, G) illustrate that a change in either volume,
NOTE: The volume was reduced, due to the drop in tem-
temperature, or pressure causes changes to the others.
perature and the increase in outside pressure.


Breathing gas should have sufficient moisture for com-
Gas Laws
fort. Too much moisture in a system can increase breathing
or both of the remaining factors. The General Gas Law resistance and produce lung congestion; too little can cause
(also known as the Ideal Gas Law) is a convenient an uncomfortable sensation of dryness in the mouth,
combination of Charles’ and Boyle’s laws. It is used to pre- throat, nasal passages, and sinus cavities. Air or other
dict the behavior of a given quantity of gas when changes breathing gases supplied from surface compressors or tanks
may be expected in any or all of the variables (see Figure can be assumed to be dry. This dryness can be reduced by
2.8). removing the mouthpiece and rinsing the mouth with

2-14 NOAA Diving Manual

water or by introducing a small amount of water inside a of less than four feet (1.2 m), objects appear closer than
full-face mask. It can be dangerous to use gum or candy to they actually are. However, overestimation occurs at dis-
reduce dryness while diving. Do not remove your mouth- tances greater than four feet, and this degree of error
piece in seawater or freshwater that may be polluted. increases in turbid or muddy water. Other perceptual dis-
tortions are also apparent. Stationary objects appear to
2.9.1 Humidity move when the head is turned from side to side.
Water vapor (a gas) behaves in accordance with the Turbidity is another factor affecting underwater visibili-
gas laws. However, because water vapor condenses at tem- ty. Turbidity refers to the clarity of the water, and depends on
peratures we are likely to encounter while diving, the the quantity of particulates in suspension. Muddy water is
effects of humidity are important considerations. more turbid than clear water. Turbidity can cause overesti-
mation of the distance of an underwater object.
2.9.2 Condensation in Breathing Hoses or Mask It is important to remember that underwater distance per-
Exhaled gas contains moisture that may condense in ception is very likely to be inaccurate and that errors of both
breathing hoses of a rebreather or in your mask. This water underestimation and overestimation may occur. As a rule of
is easily blown out through the exhaust valve and, in gen- thumb, the closer the object, the more likely it will appear to
eral, presents no problem. However, in very cold water, be closer than it really is. Additionally the more turbid the
this condensation may freeze, disrupting normal function- water, the more likely it will appear farther than it really is.
ing of a scuba regulator. The dive should be aborted if such
a condition occurs. 2.10.1 Colors
Water absorbs light according to its wavelength.
2.9.3 Fogging of the Mask The deeper the light penetrates the water, the more light
Masks become fogged because of the moisture in wavelengths are absorbed. Absorption begins at the red
end of the spectrum. Orange is the next color to be lost,
exhaled breath, or because of evaporation through facial
followed by yellow, and then green. In very deep water,
skin. This fogging can be prevented by moistening the face
the only colors visible are blue and violet. Turbidity
plate with saliva, liquid soap, or commercial anti-fogging
affects the ability to see colors because the suspended
products. Exhalation through the mouth, instead of the
particles diffuse and scatter light. Turbid water gives
nose, will reduce face mask fogging.
greatest transparency to wavelengths in the green range.
Thus, very clear water is blue, while turbid water is usu-
2.10 LIGHT
ally green.
The sense of sight allows perception of electromagnet-
Three feet of distilled water absorbs twelve percent of the
ic energy (light). Human beings can perceive only the very
red, but only one percent of the blue rays. Therefore at 65 ft.
narrow range of wave lengths from 380 to 800 nanometers
(19.8 m), even in very clear water, red is not visible, and the
(see Chapter 3). Eyes function by collecting light that is
intensity of yellow has decreased by about 95 percent. At the
emitted or reflected by an object. Some light is absorbed by
the object, making the object appear colored. The energy
waves that are received by the eye are turned to electrical
impulses in nerves and sent to the brain via the optic nerve.
The brain interprets the signals and we “see.”

Under water, the eyes continue to function by collect-


ing light reflected off objects, but the light itself changes.

Water slows the speed at which light travels. As light
enters or leaves water, this change in speed causes light COIN
rays to bend, or refract (see Figure 2.9 and 2.10). That is APPEARS
why a pencil in a glass of water looks bent. Seen through a HERE IS HERE
diving mask, refraction affects close vision, creating distor-
tions that affect eye-hand coordination and the ability to
grasp objects under water.
By placing a pocket of air (i.e., a facemask) between the
water and the eyes, the light rays are refracted twice _ once
when they enter the air from the water and again as they
enter the eyes; a clearer image is now focused on the reti-
na. Due to imperfect correction, however, the retinal image Light rays are refracted as they enter the water. The coin
is actually closer than it appears.
is larger. Objects may now appear approximately 25% larg-
er because of the larger-than-normal retinal image.
The visual distortions caused by the mask vary consid- FIGURE 2.9
erably with the viewing distance. For example, at distances Refraction

Physics of Diving 2-15


Light Rays

Water Line

Diffused Diffused

Refracted Refracted


Sunlight In Air And Water

same depth, however, blue appears with 40 to 50 percent of our eardrums. This sets off a sympathetic vibration in the
its initial surface intensity. Some sunlight may penetrate to as eardrums. The inner ear turns this mechanical vibration of
deep as 2,000 ft. (610 m) (Kinney 1985). the eardrum into a nerve impulse. The impulses are sent to
Turbidity also affects the ability to see colors because our brain for interpretation.
the suspended particles diffuse and scatter light. The more dense the medium through which sound trav-
In general, as depth increases, the ability to discern col- els, the faster the speed of sound. In dense media, molecules
ors decreases, until visible objects are distinguishable only are packed close together, allowing easier transmission of the
by differences in brightness. At deeper depths, contrast wave motion. The speed of sound through air is 1,125 ft.
becomes the most important factor in visibility. Fluorescent (343 m) per second; the speed of sound through seawater is
paint does aid visibility (see Table 2.8). 5,023 ft. (1,531 m) per second; and the speed of sound
through steel is 16,600 ft. (5,060 m) per second. The speed of
transmission of sound in water depends on the temperature
2.11 SOUND of the water (colder water is denser, thereby allowing it to
Although light and sound both travel in waves, the transmit sound faster) and salinity (seawater allows sound to
nature of these two waves is different. Light waves are elec- travel faster than freshwater, again because it is more dense).
tromagnetic. Sound is produced by pressure waves triggered Because the speed of sound depends on the density of
by vibration. As the medium containing the pressure wave the medium it travels through, interesting acoustical effects
comes into contact with another medium, a sympathetic occur in water that has several temperature layers (known
vibration occurs. This transfers the wave pattern to the sec- as thermoclines). The density of water varies according to
ond medium. As an example, a sound is produced and the its temperature. When sound waves transfer from water of
disturbance travels through the air as a pressure wave striking one temperature/density to another, as when they

2-16 NOAA Diving Manual

Colors That Give Best Visibility Against a Water Background

Water Condition Natural Illumination Incandescent Illumination Mercury Light

Murky, turbid water of low Fluorescent yellow, Yellow, orange, red, and Fluorescent yellow-green
visibility (rivers, harbors, orange, and red white (no advantage in and yellow-orange
etc.) fluorescent paint)

Regular yellow, orange, Regular yellow, white

and white

Moderately turbid water Any fluorescence in the Any fluorescence in the yel- Fluorescent yellow-green
(sounds, bays, coastal yellows, oranges, or lows, oranges, or reds or yellow-orange
water) reds

Regular paint of yellow, Regular paint of yellow, Regular yellow, white

orange, and white orange, and white

Clear water (southern Fluorescent paint Fluorescent paint Fluorescent paint

water, deep water
offshore, etc. See note.)

NOTE: With any type of illumination, fluorescent paints are superior.

a. With long viewing distances, fluorescent green and yellow-green are excellent.
b. With short viewing distances, fluorescent orange is excellent.

encounter a thermocline, substantial energy is lost. This sound originates. On land, sound reaches one ear before
tends to isolate sound within water of a consistent tempera- the other; thus, the direction of the source can be deter-
ture. Interestingly, a diver who is not in the same thermo- mined. Under water, sound travels so quickly it reaches
cline range as the source of a sound often cannot hear that both ears without an appreciable interval. The sound
sound, even though it is coming from only a few feet away. seems to originate from all directions. Sound travels
Hearing under water is affected in important ways. It faster, seems non-directional, and is more easily heard
is almost impossible to determine from which direction a under water.

Physics of Diving 2-17


2-18 NOAA Diving Manual

The NOAA Diving Manual was prepared jointly by the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce and Best
Publishing Company.

This CD-ROM product is produced and distributed by the National Technical Information
Service (NTIS), U.S. Department of Commerce.
Visit our Web site at www.ntis.gov.
Physiology 3
3.0 GENERAL ...................................................3- 1 Oxygen Toxicity ........................3-21
3.1 SYSTEMS OF THE BODY ...............................3- 1 CNS: Central
3.1.1 Musculoskeletal System ............................3- 1 Nervous System .........................3-21
3.1.2 Nervous System ......................................3- 1 Lung and
3.1.3 Digestive System.....................................3- 2
“Whole Body” ..........................3-21
3.2 RESPIRATION AND CIRCULATION ...............3- 2
3.2.1 Process of Respiration ..............................3- 2 Variations In
3.2.2 Mechanics of Respiration ..........................3- 3 Tolerance .................................3-22
3.2.3 Control of Respiration..............................3- 4 Benefits of
3.2.4 Circulation ............................................3- 4 Intermittent Exposure..................3-22 Blood Transport of Oxygen Concepts of
and Carbon Dioxide ......................3- 5 Oxygen Exposure Tissue Gas Exchange.....................3- 6 Management .............................3-22 Tissue Use of Oxygen ....................3- 6 Prevention of
3.2.5 Summary of Respiration
CNS Poisoning ..........................3-22
and Circulation Processes .........................3- 8
3.2.6 Respiratory Problems ...............................3- 8 The “Oxygen Clock” Hypoxia .....................................3- 8 or “O2 Limit Fraction”................3-22 Carbon Dioxide Toxicity ................3- 9 Prevention of Hyperventilation ..........................3-10 Lung or Whole-Body Shallow Water Blackout.................3-11 Toxicity ...................................3-24 Carbon Monoxide 3.3.4 Indirect Effects of Pressure
Poisoning ...................................3-11 During Ascent .....................................3-24 Excessive Resistance to Inert Gas Elimination .................3-24
Breathing ...................................3-12 Lipoid Pneumonia ........................3-12 Decompression Sickness ..............3-26
3.3 EFFECTS OF PRESSURE ................................3-12 Treatment Tables .......................3-28
3.3.1 Direct Effects of Pressure During Descent .....3-13 Failures of Treatment ..................3-28 Ears ..........................................3-13 Counterdiffusion........................3-29 Sinuses ......................................3-15 Aseptic Bone Necrosis Lungs ........................................3-15 (Dysbaric Osteonecrosis) ..............3-29 Eyes ..........................................3-16 Patent Foramen Ovale .................3-29
3.3.2 Direct Effects of Pressure Pregnancy and Diving .................3-30
During Ascent........................................3-16
3.4 HYPOTHERMIA/HYPERTHERMIA ...............3-30 Lungs—Pneumothorax ..................3-16 Lungs—Mediastinal 3.4.1 Effects of Cold ......................................3-30
Emphysema ................................3-17 3.4.2 First Aid for Hypothermia........................3-30 Lungs—Subcutaneous 3.4.3 Thermal Protection ................................3-31
Emphysema ................................3-18 3.4.4 Thermal Stress Irrespective of Arterial Gas Embolism ..................3-18 Ambient Temperature.............................3-32 Stomach and Intestine ...................3-19 3.4.5 Survival in Cold Water ...........................3-32 Teeth ........................................3-19 3.4.6 Overheating and Hyperthermia .................3-33 Contact Lenses ............................3-19
3.4.7 Types of Heat Stress ...............................3-33
3.3.3 Indirect Effects of Pressure
During Descent ......................................3-20 3.5 DRUGS AND DIVING ..................................3-34 Inert Gas Narcosis ........................3-20 3.5.1 Prescription Drugs .................................3-34 High Pressure Nervous 3.5.2 Smoking ..............................................3-34
Syndrome (HPNS) ........................3-21 3.5.3 Illicit Drugs and Alcohol .........................3-35
Diving Physiology
This section provides an overview of how the human Pectoral
Rotates the heavy head

body responds to the varied conditions of diving. Diving Lowers the

Shoulder muscles
physics, explained in the previous chapter, does not direct- Intercostals Raise the upper arm

ly determine how the body reacts to forces on it. Despite Between ribs
Help you catch Triceps Help raise and lower
many external physical forces, the body normally main- your breath and
turn the upper half
Biceps arms

tains internal functions within healthy ranges. Past a point, of your body
however, the body cannot maintain healthy physiology, Help straighten your knees Gluteus Strong muscles
Straighten the hip joint
which may result in medical problems. A knowledge of useful in climbing stairs Maximus
and hold you upright
diving physiology contributes to diving safety and enables Longest muscle Gastrocnemius
Help you stand on your toes
a diver to describe diving-related medical symptoms when
problems occur.
3.1 SYSTEMS OF THE BODY Connective tissue

The body tissues and organs are organized into various

systems, each with a specific job. These systems are as fol-
Muscular System
3.1.1 Musculoskeletal System body and protection to the organs. Bones are the last tissues
Bones provide the basic structure around which the to become saturated with inert gases. The muscles make the
body is formed (see Figure 3.1). They give strength to the body move — every movement from the blinking of an eye-
lid to breathing (see Figure 3.2). Additionally, muscles offer
protection to the vital organs. Some muscles are controlled
Mandible consciously, while others, like the heart, function automati-
Humerus Sternum

3.1.2 Nervous System
The nervous system includes the brain, spinal cord,
Vertebral and a complex network of nerves. Collectively, the brain
Ulna Column
and spinal cord are called the central nervous system
(CNS). All nerves originate in the brain or spinal cord.
The basic unit of the nervous system is the neuron (see
Carpal Bones
Figure 3.3), which has the ability to transmit electro-
Femur chemical signals as quickly as 350 feet per second. There
Patella are over ten billion nerve cells in the body, the largest of
Fibula which has fibers that reach all the way from the spinal
Tarsal Bones cord to the big toe (three feet or more). The brain uses
approximately 20% of the available oxygen supply in the
blood, at a rate ten times faster than other tissues, and its
FIGURE 3.1 cells will begin to die within four to six minutes if
Skeletal System deprived of that oxygen supply.

Two body processes most noticeably affected during
diving are respiration and circulation (see Figure 3.5).

3.2.1 Process of Respiration
(Relays) Respiration is the process of getting oxygen (O2) into
the body, and carbon dioxide (CO2) out. Inspired air is
warmed as it passes through the nose, mouth, and throat.
Synapse Dendrite
(Receives) This warm air continues down the trachea, into two
Axon (Relays)
bronchi at the top of each lung. These bronchi divide and
re-divide into ten bronchopulmonary branches which make
Dendrite (Receives)
up the five lobes of the lungs: three for the right lung; the
Impulse left lung has only two lobes to allow room for the heart. In
FIGURE 3.3 each lobe, the branches divide into even smaller tubes
A Nerve Cell called bronchioles. The purpose of all these branches is to
provide a large amount of gas-transfer tissue in a small
3.1.3 Digestive System area. Unfolded, the bronchio-pulmonary branches would
The digestive system consists of the stomach, small be enormous—between 750 and 860 square feet each (70
and large intestine, the salivary glands, pancreas, liver, and and 80 square meters).
gall bladder (see Figure 3.4). The digestive system converts The larger bronchioles have a muscular lining that can
food to a form that can be transported to and utilized by squeeze or relax to regulate how much air can pass. Special
the cells. Through a combination of mechanical, chemical, cells lining the bronchioles secrete mucus to lubricate and
and bacteriological actions, the digestive system reduces moisten the lungs so that breathing doesn’t dry them, and
food into soluble basic materials such as amino acids, fatty to trap dust and other particles. Trapped particles are then
acids, sugars, and water. These materials diffuse into the removed by coughing or swallowing. Irritating stimuli trig-
blood and are carried by the circulatory system to all of the ger the secretion of too much mucus into the bronchioles;
cells in the body. Non-digested material passes out of the
this congests air passages, creating respiratory conditions
body as feces.
that cause problems when diving. Other stimuli can trigger
bronchiole-muscle spasms, reducing the amount of air
Salivary Glands
breathed in a given time. When spasms occur frequently,
Moves food around.
Secretes juices into the mouth.
asthma is suspected.
Esophagus Pulmonary Pulmonary
Passageway for food Arteries Veins
between mouth and Lung Lung
Stomach Aorta
Stores food while
enxymes break down
Produces digestive food for further
juice called bile. digestion.

Gall Bladder Produces pancreatic
Stores bile until juices to further break
needed for digestion. down food in
Duodenum Right
First 10 Ñ 12 inc hes Small Intestine Atrium
of the small intestine. Nutrients for the body
are absorbed and
Appendix moved into blood Lung
An organ that no stream. Here the Capillaries
longer has a function process of digestion is Tricuspid
in your body. completed. Valve Left Atrium
Rectum Large Intestine
Lowest part of large Absorbs water, leaving more
Bicuspid Valve
intestine Ñ solid solid material which body Veins
waste held until cannot use. Indigestible Arteries
released from the material is stored for
body. approximately 24 to 30 hours
before leaving body.
Right Left
Ventricle Ventricle
Skin opening that expels waste
from body.

Body Capillaries


Digestive System Respiratory and Circulatory System

3-2 NOAA Diving Manual

The bronchioles are honeycombed with pouches, each
containing a cluster of tiny air sacs called alveoli. Each alve-
olus is less than .04 inch (1mm) wide. Surrounding each Concha
alveolus is a network of tiny blood vessels called capillaries. Sphenoid Sinus
It is in the capillaries that dissolved oxygen and carbon Adenoid
dioxide are exchanged between the lungs and the blood- Tonsil)
stream. The walls of alveoli and their capillaries are only
one cell thick, semi-permeable, and close together so gas Soft Palate
transfers easily. There are about 300 million alveoli in each
lung, so gas transfers quickly. This process is shown in Fig- Hard Palate
ures 3.6 and 3.7. Tongue

Epiglottis (Cover
3.2.2 Mechanics of Respiration of Windpipe) Esophagus
The volume of air breathed in and out is called tidal
Larynx (Voice Box)
volume; like the tide, it comes in and goes out. Tidal vol- Right Lung
ume at rest averages about 0.5 liter. Alveoli
Bronchial Artery
Normal inhalation requires the contraction of the inspi- Bronchus
ratory rib muscles (external intercostals) and the diaphragm Pulmonary
muscle below the lungs. As the chest cavity enlarges, it Vein
pulls on the double membrane around the lungs called the Pulmonary
pleura. In turn, the pleura pulls on the lungs, enlarging Artery
them. As lung volume increases, pressure within decreases
allowing air to flow into the lungs to equalize pressure. To
exhale, the diaphragm and inspiratory muscles relax, push- Bronchiole
ing on the lungs by elastic recoil and pushing air out.
Normal inspiration can be increased by adding contrac- Venule
tion of some of the neck muscles (accessory muscles), and
more rib muscles. Exhalation can be increased by contract-
Pulmonary Stomach
ing the abdominal wall and the expiratory muscles of the Arteriole
chest (internal intercostals).
Vital capacity refers to the largest volume exhaled after
maximum inhalation. This volume is usually determined by
size and age; larger individuals usually have higher vital
Process of Respiration
capacity. Vital capacity alone does not determine capacity
for exercise, the ability to breathe adequately during exer-
tion, or the ability to deliver oxygen to the blood.
Additional air that can be inhaled after a normal inspi-
ration is the inspiratory reserve. Inspiratory reserve aver-
ages three liters. After exhaling normally, one can forceably Capillaries
exhale another liter or so of air, called the expiratory
reserve. Even after forcefully expelling all the air possible, O2
there is still just over a liter in the lungs. This residual vol-
ume keeps the lungs from collapsing.
Besides exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide, lungs
have several other interesting functions, including filtering.
Lungs are directly exposed to all the pollutants, dust,
smoke, bacteria, and viruses in the air. Particles not trapped Bronchio
by bronchiole mucus enter the alveoli. There, special cells Terminal

called alveolar macrophages engulf or destroy them. Lungs

also filter the blood supply, removing harmful particles, Alveoli

such as fat globules and small blood clots. Special cells and
enzymes break down and remove the trapped particles. The Venule
Arteriole O2 Vein
lungs even filter gas bubbles generated during diving Artery
ascents, preventing bubbles, in most cases, from going back
to the heart and being pumped from there to the rest of the
body. However, too many bubbles will overwhelm this pul- FIGURE 3.7
monary filter. Lung Air Sacs (Aveoli)

Diving Physiology 3-3

3.2.3 Control of Respiration
Deoxygenated blood coming
At rest, a person normally breathes about a 0.5 liter of from body to lungs Head and Arms
Oxygen-rich blood returning
air, 12 to 20 times a minute. During exertion or emotional from lungs to body
stress, rate and volume increase many times. The rate
slows during rest and deep relaxation. Superior Vena Cava
To all parts of the body

The body has many self-regulatory mechanisms to

Pulmonary Artery
keep internal levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide the
same, even during heavy exercise. Although tissues use
Right Lung
oxygen during exertion, net blood levels do not fall. Left Lung
Although the body produces carbon dioxide during exer-
cise, levels do not ordinarily rise. The body makes the nec- Pulmonary Vein
essary adjustments by changing breathing patterns.
What is called “the respiratory center” is several sepa- Left Atrium
rate groups of nerve cells in the brain stem, each regulating
different respiratory events. Every few seconds, bursts of Right Atrium Left Ventricle
impulses from these main nerve centers signal the respira-
tory muscles, and separately determine rate, pattern, and Right Ventricle Septum
depth of inspiration and expiration.
As the primary stimulus during exercise, rising produc-
tion of CO2 stimulates receptors in the respiratory center, Lower Part of Body
Inferior Vena Cava
resulting in greatly increased inspiratory and expiratory
signals to the respiratory muscles. Ventilation increases to
remove (“blow off”) CO2; this immediately restores the De-oxygenated blood entering the inferior and superior
blood CO2 level to normal and keeps it there throughout vena cava, flows into the right atrium, right ventricle, to the
exercise. lungs via the pulmonary artery, O2/CO2 exchange in the
Oxygen, as the secondary stimulus, does not directly pulmonary capillary bed, back to the left atrium through the
pulmonary vein, left ventricle, and back into the systemic
affect the respiratory center to any great degree. Oxygen circulation through the ascending and descending aorta. It
acts on cells called chemoreceptors in two places in the is interesting to note that this circulatory loop takes only 90
heart. These chemoreceptors transmit signals to the brain’s seconds, which explains why a bubble which is introduced
respiratory controls. into the arterial circulation due to a lung overpressure acci-
dent can quickly cause an arterial gas embolism.
An excessive ventilatory rate during emotional stress
such as fear, or during deliberate hyperventilation, can
lower CO2 too far. Low CO2 reduces the drive to breathe, FIGURE 3.8
sometimes so low that one can become oxygen deficient Flow of Blood Through the Heart
(hypoxia), or even unconscious (see Section An
insufficient ventilatory rate may occur when breathing
resistance is high or there is a high partial pressure of oxy-
gen, both found in certain diving situations. These can into needed areas, away from others, and to increase and
contribute to carbon dioxide toxicity (hypercapnia) (see decrease resistance to blood flow, which is a factor in con-
Section trolling blood pressure. Arterial pressure also contributes
to the force that distributes blood through the body.
3.2.4 Circulation Arterioles increase in number and decrease in size until
Oxygen from air in the lungs needs to get to the tissue, they become capillaries—the human body has nearly 60,000
and carbon dioxide from the tissue needs to get back to the miles (100,000 km) of them. Capillaries are so narrow that
lungs. Oxygen in the alveoli dissolves and transfers into the blood cells can only go through them single file. The num-
blood through the millions of alveolar capillaries. These ber of capillaries in any particular part of the body depends
capillaries join, forming fewer but larger venules; the on how metabolically active that part is. Muscles may have
venules join, forming the large pulmonary vein; and the approximately 240,000 capillaries per square centimeter.
pulmonary vein carries the oxygenated blood to the left The lens of the eye has none. Only about five to ten percent
side of the heart. of capillaries flow with blood at any given time. The body
The left side of the heart pumps blood into the aorta, contains a finite amount of blood, therefore it must be regu-
and through a series of large muscular blood vessels called lated to meet the body’s varying needs. When there is insuf-
arteries (see Figure 3.8). Arteries branch into many pro- ficient blood to meet the body’s needs, problems arise. For
gressively smaller arterioles. The muscular arteriole walls example, if blood fluid volume depletes from dehydration or
squeeze or relax to regulate how much blood can pass. can’t keep up with the competing demands of exercise and
Arterial constriction and dilation is useful to direct blood cooling in the heat, the body is adversely affected.

3-4 NOAA Diving Manual

Dissolved oxygen transfers easily through the capillary
walls to the cells, and carbon dioxide transfers from cells to
capillaries. The CO2-loaded blood continues through all
the capillaries, onward to venules, then veins, and back to
the heart. The heart pumps the blood to the lungs where
CO2 is removed and more oxygen is received. A small
amount of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood reaches the
lungs directly from the left side of the heart; the lungs, like
all other tissues, need oxygen to function.
Another part of the circulatory system is the lymph
system. As blood passes through capillary networks, pres-
sure inside capillaries pushes fluid out of the capillaries.
About one percent of the liquid is not resorbed and
remains in the spaces between capillaries and cells. The
lymph system drains this extra fluid so it can return to the FIGURE 3.9
blood vessels to maintain proper blood volume. The lymph Carbon Dioxide Exchange
system also filters cell debris and foreign substances in the
blood, and makes and stores infection-fighting white cells
(lymphocytes) in bean-shaped storage bodies called lymph carbonic acid (H2CO3), and then, just as quickly (another
nodes. Whenever lymphocytes collect to fight invaders, the small fraction of a second) loses hydrogens to become
swollen piles of them can be felt in the lymph nodes. bicarbonate ions (HCO3–), many of which diffuse into the
plasma where it is transported to the lungs. Bicarbonate is Blood Transport of Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide alkaline, and so it is a buffering agent in the blood against
Blood transports food, water, disease-fighting cells, acids, such as carbonic acid. Hemoglobin also functions as
chemicals, messages, waste, and repair kits throughout the a powerful acid-base buffer and scavenges the acidic hydro-
body. This section focuses on the blood’s role in bringing gen ions. These are useful reactions in the body. Acid from
oxygen to the body and carbon dioxide back to the lungs. carbon dioxide and its reactions may form in great quanti-
Blood is mostly water. Oxygen and carbon dioxide ties, yet still not build to unhealthy levels.
don’t dissolve well in water, particularly in warm water, as Ordinarily, the reaction of changing carbonic acid to
in the body. As a result, at sea level pressure, only a small bicarbonate ions would take seconds to minutes—too slow
amount of oxygen dissolves in blood plasma (the part of to be useful, so an enzyme called carbonic anhydrase
blood without cells). The oxygen-carrying problem is inside red blood cells decreases the reaction time by a fac-
solved with a red protein molecule called hemoglobin tor of 5,000 times so that great amounts of CO2 can react
found inside red blood cells. Red blood cells carry far more with water, even before blood leaves the capillaries on the
oxygen with hemoglobin than they could without it. Up to way back to the lung. Drugs called carbonic anhydrase
four oxygen molecules loosely attach to each hemoglobin inhibitors block the reaction of carbonic anhydrase, slow-
molecule to form oxyhemoglobin. At sea level, about 98 ing CO2 transport so that tissue levels rise. Carbonic anhy-
percent of the oxygen in blood is carried by hemoglobin. drase inhibitors are used to combat glaucoma, fluid
A hemoglobin molecule with four oxygen molecules retention, and altitude sickness.
bound to it looks red, while hemoglobin without bound Carbonic acid is used to carbonate soft drinks. Just as
oxygen is so dark-red that it looks blue. This is why oxy- bicarbonate in soda releases carbon dioxide gas when a
genated (arterial) blood looks red, and deoxygenated pop can is opened, bicarbonate in blood becomes carbonic
(venous) blood looks blue. It is also why, if all of the blood acid again, releasing carbon dioxide into the alveoli so that
is deoxygenating from a serious injury or disease process, CO2 can be exhaled. The difference between the soft drink
the victim can look blue; this is called cyanosis, from the and the body is that the reaction to release carbon dioxide
word root cyan, meaning blue. in soda has no catalyst to speed it up. Though seemingly
Carbon dioxide is easier to transport in the blood than fast, it is far too slow to keep one alive if it occurred at the
oxygen; it can be transported in higher quantity, and in more same rate in the body. The lungs have enzymes to speed
ways (see Figure 3.9). Dissolved CO2 diffuses out of cells the reaction.
into capillary blood. A small amount stays in the dissolved Carbon dioxide is also released in the lung by hemo-
state in blood plasma all the way to the lung. Hemoglobin globin. When hemoglobin arrives in the alveolar capillar-
can loosely bond a small amount, and when combined, it is ies with excess carbon dioxide, it first wants to pick up
called carbaminohemoglobin. An even smaller amount of new oxygen. The oxygen makes the hemoglobin a
CO2 can bond with plasma proteins. These three ways are stronger acid. Having just become more acidic, hemoglo-
minor and slow. bin does not want the existing acid from the acidic carbon
The bulk of CO2 (about 70%) reacts quickly with water dioxide any more, so it releases it. This effect, called the
inside red blood cells to form first the weak, unstable Haldane Effect, means that picking up oxygen in the lung

Diving Physiology 3-5

promotes releasing carbon dioxide. The reverse is also Tissue Use of Oxygen
true—as hemoglobin picks up carbon dioxide in the body, The body uses some of the oxygen supplied to it, but not
it makes the hemoglobin more acid, so it wants to release all, even during heavy exercise. At rest, the body inhales
its stores of oxygen right then, which is an important fac- approximately 21 percent oxygen, and exhales about 16 per-
tor in oxygen delivery to the cells. The Haldane Effect is cent. This is why mouth-to-mouth resuscitation can work.
named for Scottish-born British physiologist John Scott Exhaled air has sufficient O2 to benefit the hypoxic victim.
Haldane, who also co-developed the first algorithm to esti- During exercise, working muscles need more oxygen; so, the
mate amounts of inert gas absorbed and released by the blood vessels redistribute blood flow, the blood releases more
body. Many modern decompression tables are based on oxygen, and the working cells extract more of the oxygen
his work. from the blood supply (see Figure 3.10). The better shape one
is in, the more oxygen the body can deliver and extract. The Tissue Gas Exchange amount of oxygen taken up by the body, the oxygen con-
Blood flow is not the only determinant of how much sumption, is a means of measuring the body’s metabolism
oxygen reaches the body. How much oxygen the blood and energy production. Usually about 25% of the oxygen
releases to cells, and how much carbon dioxide it removes, used by the body is available for muscular activity; the bal-
is determined by variable, yet tightly regulated processes. ance produces heat and supports other metabolic functions.
Cells withdraw oxygen from the blood. By the time During exercise, heart rate and the force of the heart
blood returns to the lungs, oxygen pressure is low. Oxygen beat increase. Blood pressure rises. Hemoglobin distrib-
in the air in the lungs travels toward the blood through a utes nitric oxide, which controls the width of the blood
simple gradient of higher to lower pressure. Now it is vessels. Blood vessels constrict in areas of the body not
blood with higher oxygen pressure. Oxygenated blood using as much, such as the digestive tract, spleen, liver,
travels back to oxygen-depleted tissues. Gas transfers via and non-working muscles. Contraction of arteriolar mus-
that pressure gradient to the lower pressure areas of the cles constricts the arteriole, reducing the amount of blood
body. entering the capillary bed. Arteriolar smooth muscle cells
Meanwhile, cells have been producing carbon diox- form sphincters, called precapillary sphincters, at selected
ide. Body CO2 concentration is higher than blood con- places in the capillary bed to shut off blood flow. Every
centration. CO2 travels from tissue to blood, then blood capillary bed has one capillary with no sphincter, called
to lungs, down its own gradient. Gas exchange of carbon the thoroughfare channel. It stays open all the time, allow-
dioxide and oxygen occurs quickly and easily, so that tis- ing some blood passage to maintain normal functioning.
sue levels remain in set ranges, even though blood rushes Blood expelled from low-demand areas increases blood
through the body, and even with the high demands of flow to areas with high demand for oxygen supply and for
exercise. carbon dioxide and waste removal. In these areas, the arteri-
The body also controls oxygen delivery; it does not olar muscular lining relaxes to allow more blood to enter.
simply accept all the oxygen provided by the gradient. One Unlike other areas of the body with varying blood sup-
regulation mechanism involves the small blood vessels. ply, the brain always needs a steady supply of oxygen. If
Oxygen is a vasoconstrictor. With high oxygen pressures circulation slows or stops, consciousness may be lost in
during diving, small blood vessels constrict, thus reducing seconds, and irreparable brain damage may occur within
the oxygen delivered through vascular beds. four to six minutes (see Section
Another control mechanism is the hemoglobin-oxy- Aerobic fitness is the ability of lungs, heart, and blood
gen buffer system. Hemoglobin does not just carry oxy- vessels to deliver oxygen, and the ability of the muscles
gen and blindly deliver it to the cells. Hemoglobin and other cells to extract and use it. Aerobically fit people
regulates how much oxygen it releases. With low sur- can deliver, extract, and use more oxygen when exercising
rounding oxygen partial pressure, at altitude or other low and are able to do more aerobic exercise. Average exercise
oxygen states, for example, hemoglobin releases more increases the amount of oxygen needed by the active tis-
than usual. With increased oxygen pressure, as during sues by about ten times. Heavy exercise can increase it to
diving, hemoglobin releases less. Within limits (though around twenty times, depending on the aerobic fitness. The
one breathes higher or lower than normal pressure oxy- better aerobic shape one is in, the more work the body can
gen), hemoglobin still delivers oxygen to the body tissues do without reaching its own maximum oxygen-processing
at almost normal pressure. The lungs get exposed to too ability. World-class athletes have reached over 30 times
much or too little oxygen, but the rest of the body does their resting rate. Merely breathing in more oxygen does
not. not affect how much one can use for exercise. One has to
However, above and below a range of about half nor- increase their ability to deliver, extract, and use oxygen.
mal pressure at moderate altitude to many times normal at Supplying more oxygen does not improve one’s fitness.
depth, the body can’t compensate. See Section on Only regular aerobic exercise will make the necessary
Oxygen Toxicity for effects of excess oxygen. changes in the body.

3-6 NOAA Diving Manual

100 Notes:
1 - All figures are average values. There is considerable
95 ¥ Uphill (4.0, 95)
variation between individuals.
2 - STPD means Òstandard temperature and pressure, dry gas.Ó Running
90 As given here, it is medical STPD (i.e., 32ºF, 1 ata, dry gas.
For oxygen cylinder endurance or helmet ventilation
85 calculations, the numbers should be multiplied by 1.08 to
yield engineering STPD.
80 3 - BTPS means Òbody temperature (98.6ºF), ambient
barometric pressure, saturated with water vapor at Severe Work
body temperature.Ó For open-circuit scuba
endurance calculations, this value should be
multiplied by 0.95 to give corresponding
70 values for dry gas at 70ºF. The 0.95 factor
ignores difference in the water vapor
65 content between dry and saturated gas,
RMV (liters/min, BTPS) (Note 3)

but this is very small at most diving

60 depths. ¥ Swimming, 1.2 knots (2.5, 60) (Note 2)


50 ¥ Running, 8 mph (2.0, 50)

45 Heavy Work
¥ Max Walking Speed, Mud Bottom (1.8, 40)
Swimming, 1.0 knot

¥ Max Walking Speed, Hard Bottom (1.5, 34)
30 ¥ Swimming, 0.85 knot (avg. speed) (1.4, 30)
¥ Walking, 4 mph (1.2, 27)
25 Moderate Work
¥ Slow Walking on Mud Bottom (1.1, 23)
¥ Swimming, 0.5 knot (slow) (0.8, 18)
15 ¥ Walking, 2 mph (0.7, 16) Light Work
¥ Slow Walking on Hard Bottom (0.6, 13)
¥ Standing Still (0.40, 9)
¥ Sitting Quietly (0.30, 7)
5 Rest
¥ Bed Rest (Basal) (0.25, 6)

1 2 3 4

Oxygen Consumption (liters/min, STPD) (Note 2)

Oxygen Consumption and RMV at Different Work Rates

Diving Physiology 3-7

Aerobic fitness is not the only fitness needed for life In terms of inspired oxygen percentage at one atmos-
activities. In rapid-onset, short duration, and intense activi- phere or at equivalent oxygen partial pressures, there are
ty, the body uses special stored fuel and glucose, not oxygen. usually no perceptible effects down to about 16% oxygen
Because these two fuels are not oxygen-using (aerobic) sys- (PO 2 of 0.16 ata). At 12-14%, most people will not
tems, they are called anaerobic. These two anaerobic sys- notice the first symptoms of tingling, numb lips, and tun-
tems are utilized for breath-hold diving, swimming against nel vision. These symptoms become more prominent at
strong currents, sprints, hauling out of the water in full gear, 9-10%, with the onset of dizziness; collapse is imminent
or rescuing a heavy buddy. Regularly exercising at high for some. At levels much below this, some people can
speed and intensity for short bouts improves one’s anaerobic stay conscious with great effort but most will become
capacity. unconscious. There is a significant variation between
individuals in susceptibility and symptoms; an adapta-
3.2.5 Summary of Respiration and Circulation Processes tion to altitude can greatly increase one’s tolerance to
The processes of respiration and circulation include six hypoxia. Fitness helps, but individual physiology is a
important, continuous phases: more prominent factor. Typical responses are included
in Table 3.1, which shows both the range of hypoxic
1. Breathing air into the lungs (ventilation) effects and higher ranges of oxygen uses.
2. Oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange between air in Hypoxia decreases the ability to think, orient, see
the lung alveoli and blood properly, or perform tasks. Of all the cells in the body,
3. Oxygen transport by blood to the body tissue brain cells are the most vulnerable to hypoxia. Uncon-
sciousness and death can occur in brain cells before the
4. Releasing oxygen by blood to cells, and extraction by
body cells
5. Use of oxygen in the cells by combining oxygen with TABLE 3.1
fat and carbohydrates to generate energy and produce Effects of Different Levels
waste products including carbon dioxide of Oxygen Partial Pressure
6. Carbon dioxide transport by blood back to the heart,
then lungs, where it diffuses into the lungs and is PO2
breathed out of the body (atm) Application and Effect

<0.08 Coma to ultimate death

3.2.6 Respiratory Problems Hypoxia <0.08-0.10 Unconsciousness in most people
The brain requires constant oxygen to maintain con-
sciousness, and ultimately, life. The brain is subject to 0.09-0.10 Serious signs/symptoms of hypoxia
damage when it is deprived of oxygen for more than four
to six minutes, as can happen in heart failure when the 0.14-0.16 Initial signs/symptoms of hypoxia
blood supply to the brain is interrupted, in drowning,
0.21 Normal environment oxygen (sea level air)
asphyxia, if breathing stops and the lungs receive no oxy-
gen, or if the oxygen partial pressure in the lungs is insuffi- 0.35-0.40 Normal saturation dive PO2 level
cient. An inadequate supply of oxygen is known as
hypoxia, which means low oxygen and can mean any sit- 0.50 Threshold for whole-body effects; maxi-
uation where cells have insufficient oxygen. Hypoxia mum saturation dive exposure
may result from several situations:
1.60 NOAA limit for maximum exposure for a
• Breathing mixtures that may be low in oxygen such working diver
as in seafloor or surface-based saturation systems or
2.20 Commercial/military “Sur-D” chamber sur-
face decompression, 100% O2 at 40 fsw
• Ascending to high elevation
• Convulsing under water from an oxygen-toxicity
event 2.40 60% N2/40% O2 nitrox recompression
• Breathing the wrong gas; for example, mistaking the treatment gas at six ata (165 fsw)
argon supply for dry suits for a breathing gas supply
• Breathing gas from a scuba cylinder that has been 2.80 100% O2 recompression treatment gas at
stored with a little water in it for long periods — the 2.8 ata (60 fsw)
oxidation reaction (misting) can, over time, con-
sume nearly all of the oxygen in the cylinder 3.00 50/50 nitrox recompression treatment gas
• Inadequate purging of breathing bags in closed or for use in the chamber at six ata
semiclosed breathing apparatus

3-8 NOAA Diving Manual

effects of hypoxia are apparent in other cells. The vic- Some full-face masks have as much as 0.5 liter of dead
tims of hypoxia do not usually understand what is space. Free-flow helmets generally do not have dead space
occurring, and they may even experience a feeling of problems unless the flow rate is maintained at a low volume
well-being. for an extended period. Oral-nasal masks inside full-face
masks/helmets are also effective in reducing the amount of
Signs and Symptoms: dead space.
• Frequently none (the diver may simply lapse into A well-designed system has little dead space. Dead
sudden unconsciousness) space volume cannot be determined by visual examination;
• Mental changes similar to those of alcohol intoxica- special equipment is needed to determine how much
tion exhaled gas is rebreathed.
• Confusion, clumsiness, slowing of response Normally, the body keeps arterial CO2 levels the same
• Foolish behavior (within 3 mmHg), even with heavy exercise. With exercise,
• Cyanosis (bluish discoloration of the lips, nailbeds, the body produces more CO2, but the breathing rate auto-
and skin) matically increases to eliminate the excess. The more pro-
• In severe cases, cessation of breathing duction, the greater the sensation of shortness of breath
occurs, and the greater the ventilatory effort. However, it is
Prevention: also true that large differences exist in individual responses
• Avoid excessive hyperventilation before a breath- to increases in carbon dioxide.
hold dive. It is unknown why some divers do not increase venti-
• When diving with a rebreather, flush the breathing lation sufficiently. Other divers deliberately breathe slowly,
circuit with fresh gas mixture before ascending. or they skip breathe—pausing after each breath to conserve
• Always know the amount of oxygen in gas mixtures cylinder air. In these cases, CO2 may not be removed in a
being breathed. normal fashion, and carbon dioxide levels may rise (hyper-
Treatment: Another factor elevating CO2 is the increased effort of
• Get the victim to the surface and into fresh air. breathing at depth. To a smaller extent, high oxygen partial
• If under water and using a rebreather, manually add pressure decreases ventilation in some situations; the body
oxygen to the breathing circuit and begin ascent has enough oxygen and does not need to breathe as much,
immediately; if manual adjustments are made incor- so it does not get rid of CO2 as fast.
rectly, oxygen toxicity may result.
• If the victim is still breathing, supplying a breathing WARNING
gas with sufficient oxygen usually causes a rapid SKIP-BREATHING IS NOT A SAFE PROCEDURE.
• An unconscious victim should be treated as if he is OR NO WARNING.
suffering from gas embolism.
• Cardiopulmonary resuscitation should be adminis- Signs and Symptoms:
tered if necessary and should be continued after the Occasionally, CO2 poisoning produces no symptoms,
victim is in the recompression chamber. although it is usually accompanied by an overwhelming
urge to breathe and noticeable air starvation. There may be Carbon Dioxide Toxicity headache, dizziness, weakness, perspiration, nausea, a
In diving, carbon dioxide excess (hypercapnia) occurs slowing of responses, confusion, clumsiness, flushed skin,
either from too much carbon dioxide in the breathing and unconsciousness. In extreme cases, muscle twitching
medium or because carbon dioxide produced by the body and convulsions may occur. The progressive nature of CO2
is not eliminated properly by the equipment or by the poisoning is shown in Figure 3.11.
The breathing mixture itself may contain a higher than Zone I: At these concentrations and durations, no percepti-
normal level of CO2, or the equipment may allow exhaled ble physiological effects are observed.
CO2 to be rebreathed.
Failure of the carbon dioxide absorption system of Zone II: Small threshold hearing losses have been found
closed or semi-closed circuit breathing systems allows the and there is a perceptible doubling in the depth of respiration.
build up of high CO2 levels in any space where exhaled air
accumulates and can be re-inhaled. Too much of this “dead Zone III: Discomfort, mental depression, headache,
space” in diving helmets or masks and in overly-large dizziness, nausea, “air hunger,” and decrease in visual
snorkels allows exhaled CO2 to collect and be rebreathed. discrimination.

Diving Physiology 3-9

CO2 Partial Pressure (PCO2), atmospheres absolute (ATA)


0.10 10

% CO2 Concentration in Air at 1 ATA

Zone IV Dizziness, stupor unconsciousness
0.08 8

Zone C

0.06 6
Zone III Distracting discomfort

0.04 4

Zone II Minor perceptible changes
0.02 2
Zone B
Zone I No effect
Zone A
0.00 0
10 20 30 40 50 60 70
40 Days
ATA Exposure Time, minutes

The Relationship of Physiological Effects in Carbon Dioxide Concentration and Exposure Periods

Zone IV: Marked physical distress, dizziness, stupor, headache caused by the buildup may persist even after sur-
inability to take steps for self-preservation. facing. If a diver becomes unconscious, he should be treated
in accordance with the procedure described in Chapter 21.
Zone V: Unconsciousness. Above a CO2 partial pressure
(PCO2) of 0.15 ata, muscle spasms, rigidity, and death can Hyperventilation
occur. The bar graph at the right of Figure 3.11 extends the Hyperventilation includes several conditions that
period of exposure to 40 days. have the end result of lowering the blood carbon dioxide
levels through overbreathing. In diving, hyperventilation
Zone A: Concentrations between 0.5 and 3.0 % (0.005-0.03 means short-term, rapid, deep breathing beyond the
ata partial pressure), no biochemical or other effects. amount needed for the activity. Divers may hyperventi-
late unintentionally during high-stress situations, from
Zone B: Above 3% (0.03 ata partial pressure). Adaptive various health problems, or intentionally to extend
biochemical changes, which may be considered a mild breath-holding time.
physiological strain. Hyperventilation lowers CO2 levels below normal, a
condition known alternately as hypocapnia or hypocarbia.
Zone C: Pathological changes in basic physiological func- Without enough CO2, normal, needed carbonic acid levels
tions. For normal diving operations, ventilation rates are not achieved, pushing body chemistry to the alkaline.
should be maintained so that carbon dioxide partial pres- The resulting alkalosis initially produces tingling fingers
sures are maintained in Zones I and II for short-term expo- and limbs and lightheadedness. Over a longer period, it
sures and in Zones A and B for long-term exposures. may produce weakness, faintness, headache, and blurred
Treatment: Slowing breathing will correct this, but divers may not
Divers who are aware that they are experiencing car- be aware of why symptoms are occurring and not take cor-
bon dioxide buildup should stop, rest, breathe deeply, and rective measures.
ventilate themselves and their apparatus. Fresh breathing Divers who notice that they are excessively hyperventi-
gas usually relieves all symptoms quickly, although any lating should take immediate steps to slow their breathing

3-10 NOAA Diving Manual

oxygen in the blood. Expressed as partial pressure of oxy-
180 gen in the arterial blood, it is below a level of approximate-
160 ly 40 –50 mmHg that an individual is exposed to the risk of
sudden loss of consciousness (syncope).
Figure 3.12 depicts the changes in partial pressures
120 of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the arterial blood on a
free dive to 33 fsw (2 ata) and subsequent return to the
surface. At “S” (surface), the chart illustrates that the
80 arterial tension of CO 2 is 40 mmHg and O 2 at 100

mmHg. These are normal values for a healthy human at

60 sea level. After hyperventilation (S + HV) the carbon
40 dioxide is decreased to 1/2 its normal value (20 mmHg)
and partial pressure of oxygen (120 mmHg) increases
0 In the healthy individual, it is the carbon dioxide
S S + HV RB LB RS level that stimulates one to breathe. At 33 fsw (RB) oxy-
gen has been used up and there has been little or no real
OXYGEN increase in CO2. However, due to the increase in ambi-
ent pressure to 2 ata, the actual partial pressure of the
carbon dioxide has doubled to 40 mmHg. Oxygen,
S = Amount at surface though consumed to the equivalent of 80 mmHg at sea
S + HV = Amount after
level, is 150 mmHg at the 33 fsw, so there is no oxygen-
hyperventilation at surface
RB = Amount upon reaching 33 fsw deprivation distress at depth.
LB = Amount leaving 33 fsw Eventually, the carbon dioxide rises slightly to 44
RS = Amount upon reaching surface mmHg (LB), a level sufficient to stimulate the diver to
Adapted from Robert Bumgarner, MD, want to breathe or in this case return to the surface.
"Diving Medicine - Shallow Water Blackout," Skin Diver, November 1990. While at depth (2 ata) the partial pressure of the oxygen
(80 mmHg) is sufficient to maintain consciousness. How-
ever, a significant amount of oxygen has been utilized.
Partial Pressure Ð mmHg
When the diver returns to the surface (RS), the partial
pressures of the gases are cut in half by the reduction in
rate, notify their buddies, and, if feasible, ascend promptly. ambient pressure to 1 ata. The net effect is that O2 par-
After reaching the surface, they should establish positive tial pressure falls to 40 mmHg, or below the level neces-
buoyancy inflating their buoyancy compensators or vari- sary to remain conscious and the diver “blacks out.”
able-volume dry suits. Hyperventilating divers should not
attempt to swim to a boat or the shore unaided because Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
they may lose consciousness in the attempt. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas, directly
During surface-supplied diving, the tender should con- toxic to the body. It used to be popular to describe carbon-
tinuously monitor the sound of diver’s breathing for signs monoxide toxicity as simply a matter of carbon monoxide
of hyperventilation. Divers starting to hyperventilate combining with hemoglobin to make carboxyhemoglobin,
should be instructed to stop work, rest, try to control their which blocked hemoglobin from carrying oxygen and pro-
breathing rate, and ventilate their mask/helmet. Once on duced hypoxia (oxygen deficiency). Although that is one of
the surface, slowing breathing, breathing into a paper bag the effects, the situation is far more serious.
to rebreathe air with a higher level of carbon dioxide, or Carbon monoxide combines strongly with myoglobin,
even holding the breath for short periods will restore CO2 the oxygen-transporting and storage protein of muscle, and
to normal levels. with the respiratory enzymes necessary for oxygen use in
cells, directly stopping vital cellular functions. The entire oxy- Shallow Water Blackout gen process of transport, uptake, and utilization is disrupted.
Hyperventilation prior to a surface dive used to be Carbon monoxide also blocks hemoglobin from removing
popular with free divers to extend their breath-hold time. carbon dioxide. Effects of CO increase with depth. The
It is still used today by some who have the distorted view increased pressure of oxygen at depth does not offset carbon
that it will improve their diving capabilities. Unfortunate- monoxide toxicity. Because of cellular toxicity, hypoxia
ly, upon ascending, the process may also lead to uncon- occurs even if the air being breathed has sufficient oxygen.
sciousness on or before returning to the surface. CO exposure can result in pounding headache, nau-
It is important to understand that for a human being to sea, and vomiting. High concentrations may cause sudden
remain conscious there has to be a certain concentration of loss of consciousness.

Diving Physiology 3-11

TABLE 3.2 outlined in Chapter 21. The treatment of choice is hyper-
Carboxyhemoglobin Relative to CO Exposure baric oxygen therapy in a recompression chamber.

Continuous Exposure Excessive Resistance to Breathing

Level of CO HbCO in Blood “Work-of-breathing” is the amount of effort involved
with inhaling against the elastic resistance of the chest
walls, the resistive forces from restrictions in and lengths of
50 ppm 8.4 %
the airways, and those of supplemental breathing appara-
40 ppm 6.7 % tuses. If breathing resistance is high, it makes breathing
30 ppm 5.0 % more difficult, particularly during hard work.
20 ppm 3.3 % Work-of-breathing increases with high resistance to gas
10 ppm 1.7 % flow in poorly tuned scuba regulators, valves, and hoses,
_ 0.5 % (non-smoker) and from tight equipment and exposure suits, or from an air
supply in which the supply valve is not wide open. Breath-
ing resistance can increase with gas density, which increases
with depth. Some regulators are not designed to handle deep
Hemoglobin binds with CO 200 to 300 times more depths or high breathing needs. Well-designed, fitting, and
readily than O2, rendering it difficult and time consuming to maintained equipment minimizes resistance to the flow of
eliminate from the body once inhaled. CO behaves in half- breathing gas. Resistance increases to the square of the
time fashion, like nitrogen. At sea level breathing regular air, increased flow rate. That is, doubling the flow rate increases
5 1/2 hours pass before half the CO leaves the body; another breathing resistance by four times. Rapid breathing patterns
5 1/2 hours must pass for the next 25 percent to leave, and increase turbulence which, past a point, can increase breath-
so on. Breathing 100 percent oxygen at the surface reduces ing resistance. Small-bore snorkels, small-diameter exhaust
the half-time to just under 1 1/2 hours. At three ata (66 ft.) valves, breathing hoses, and mouthpieces may increase tur-
in a hyperbaric chamber, the half-time is about 23 minutes. bulent flow to the point of increasing work-of-breathing.
Contamination of a scuba cylinder of air with CO can The body compensates for high breathing resistance by
come from fumes drawn into the compressor intake. These reducing ventilation—easily demonstrated by breathing
fumes can come from the exhaust of an internal combus- through a narrow tube. As work-of-breathing increases, the
tion engine or from partial combustion of lubricating oil in body reaches a limit; it will accept increased carbon dioxide
a compressor not properly operated or maintained. Air rather than perform the increased respiratory work required
intakes on compressors must be protected to avoid carbon to maintain a normal CO2 level in the tissues. Excess breath-
monoxide contamination. Use oil with an appropriate ing resistance has been implicated in some diving accidents.
flash point if using an oil-lubricated compressor. To reduce work-of-breathing, breathe normally. Keep
Smoking cigarettes creates carboxyhemoglobin in the equipment well tuned and serviced regularly.
blood. The exhaled breath of a smoker can contain more
carbon monoxide than NOAA allows in its compressed air Lipoid Pneumonia
for diving (see Table 3.2). Diving-industry standards call Lipoid pneumonia can result if a diver breathes gas
for air suppliers to adhere to air-quality standards. containing suspended petroleum vapor. Once petroleum
particles enter the lungs they remain there for a long time.
Signs and Symptoms: This condition is commonly known as “black lung” and is
Carbon monoxide poisoning usually produces no prevented by not allowing oil vapor in the diver’s breathing
symptoms until the victim loses consciousness. Some vic- gas and by ensuring that only approved oil is used in diving
tims experience headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, a compressors.
feeling of tightness in the head, confusion, or clumsiness,
while others may be unresponsive or display poor judge- NOTE
ment. Rapid deep breathing may progress to cessation of Oil of any kind is dangerous if breathed into the
breathing. There may be abnormal redness or blueness of diverÕs lungs.
lips, nailbeds, or skin. The classic sign of CO poisoning,
“cherry-red” lips, may or may not occur and is therefore 3.3 EFFECTS OF PRESSURE
not a reliable diagnostic aid. Effects of pressure may be arbitrarily divided into two
main categories:
The victim should be given fresh air and, if available, 1. Direct, mechanical effects during descent
oxygen. Some effects, such as headache or nausea, may and ascent.
persist after the exposure has ended. An unconscious vic- 2. Effects from changes in the partial pres-
tim should be treated in accordance with the procedures sure of inspired gases during descent and ascent.

3-12 NOAA Diving Manual

Semicircular Canals Nerve
Facial Nerve

Cochlear Nerve
Oval Window
Round Window

Tympanic (Stirrup)
Membrane Throat
External Tube
Auditory Canal

Principle Parts of the Ear

3.3.1 Direct Effects of Pressure During Descent ear susceptible to pressure problems. The middle ear has
The body can withstand great hydrostatic pressure. three small bones (malleus, incus, stapes) which intensify
Divers have made open-sea dives to over 1,500 fsw (682 sound waves from the ear drum and transforms them
psia); in experimental situations, divers have been exposed into mechanical vibrations going to the inner ear through
to pressures equivalent to 2,250 fsw (1,016 psia). Pressure a small, delicate, oval membrane called the oval win-
increases do not affect the liquid areas of the body which dow. The last of the three middle ear bones, the stirrup,
are essentially incompressible and do not change shape or
distort. Air spaces are not affected as long as pressure
inside the air space is the same as pressure outside. If
openings to the air space are blocked on descent or ascent
preventing pressure equalization, the air spaces can be
mechanically distorted and injured. Injury from pressure
change is called barotrauma. The Greek word baros,
means weight or pressure, and trauma means injury.
This section covers barotrauma during descent, as
pressure increases on the air spaces of the ears, sinuses,
lungs, and in certain pieces of diving equipment. Ears
The ear has three divisions: outer, middle, and inner
(see Figures 3.13). Each division functions separately to
convert sound waves into nerve impulses going to the
The outer ear is comprised of the outer projecting
portion and the ear canal. The outer ear collects sound
waves and channels them through the ear canal to the
ear drum which begins the middle ear (see Figure 3.14).
The middle ear is a tiny air cavity in the temporal bone
on both sides of the skull. It is a closed air space; when FIGURE 3.14
pressure increases volume decreases, making the middle Tympanic Membrane (Ear Drum)

Diving Physiology 3-13

attaches directly to the oval window. The oval window is WARNING
20 times smaller than the ear drum, so pressure changes BECAUSE OF THE DANGER OF EAR DAMAGE, DO
on the ear drum from sound waves or diving amplify NOT DO A FORCEFUL VALSALVA MANEUVER
greatly on the oval window. Another delicate structure BEFORE OR DURING DESCENT OR ASCENT.
separating middle and inner ear is the round window.
Upper respiratory infection (URI) may reduce or prevent
WARNING equalization. Conditions contributing to stuffiness include
MIDDLE EAR SQUEEZE, OR TOO VIGOROUS AUTO acute or chronic inflammatory illness, allergy, irritation from
INFLATION OF THE MIDDLE EAR SPACE USING A smoking, and prolonged use of nasal spray. If one has diffi-
VALSALVA MANEUVER (ATTEMPTING TO EXHALE culty equalizing on the surface, don’t dive. If one has an
THROUGH CLOSED NOSTRILS), CAN TRANSFER upper respiratory infection of any kind, don’t dive until the
OR EVEN RUPTURE THEM, LEADING TO VERTIGO Systemic and topical drugs may improve nasal and sinus
AND SOMETIMES PERMANENT HEARING LOSS. function and middle-ear equalization. Use them cautiously
because a rebound phenomenon can occur, particularly with
The middle ears connect to the throat by the eustachi- nasal spray. When the drug wears off, greater congestion and
an tubes, allowing air to enter the middle ears for pressure equalization problems can reoccur.
equalization. The eustachian tube is about 1.5 inches (3.8 If you have chronic nasal obstruction, frequent upper-
cm) long in the adult. Pressure equalization of the middle respiratory infections, nasal allergies, mastoid or ear dis-
ear is ongoing, whether diving, flying, or while on dry ease, or chronic sinus trouble, see an ear, nose, and throat
land. The eustachian tubes open as middle-ear volume specialist.
changes when swallowing and chewing, allowing air to
pass and equalize pressure. Signs and Symptoms:
The closed, fluid-filled inner ear has two parts. Both • Fullness or pressure in region of the external ear canals
have intricate shapes, called labyrinths. Receptor cells in • Squeaking sound
the inner ear receive mechanical vibrations, change them • Pain
to neural impulses, and transmit them to the brain. The • Blood or fluid from external ear
second, separate function of the inner ear pertains to loca- • Rupture of ear drum
tion, motion, and balance.
During descent, water pressure increases against the ear Prevention:
drum. The ear drum bows inward, compressing air in the • Use of solid ear plugs are prohibited in diving.
middle ear, initially equalizing pressure; however, the ear • Fit of diving hoods and earphones should be adjusted
drum can stretch only so far. As water pressure increases so that they do not completely cover or seal the exter-
relative to middle ear pressure, it creates an uncomfortable nal ear canal during ascent or descent.
relative vacuum in the middle ear. This is “middle-ear • Accumulated wax that can obstruct the ear canal
squeeze,” or barotitis media. Ear squeeze is common should be removed by gently irrigating the canal with
among divers, but easily preventable. a lukewarm water solution, using a rubber bulb
Successful methods of equalizing middle-ear pressure syringe. Care should be taken before irrigation to
are swallowing, yawning, or gently blowing against a guarantee that there is no ear drum perforation
closed mouth and nostrils, which allows air from the throat behind the obstructing wax.
to enter the middle ear through the eustachian tube. If one • Descend feet first, preferably down the anchor line or
does not equalize pressure, negative pressure in the middle descent line. Membranes line the airways in the head,
ear continues to stress the eardrum, expanding the blood and gravity affects blood in the vessels within the
vessels of the eardrum and middle-ear lining. Either the ear membranes. When you are upside down in water, the
drum will rupture, allowing air or water to enter the mid- membranes of the air passages swell and narrow.
dle ear and equalize the pressure, or the blood vessels will • Don’t wait for ear pain to start before equalizing.
leak and rupture to allow enough bleeding in the middle Start equalizing as soon as pressure is felt, or before.
ear to equalize pressure. Inner-ear injury may occur from • Equalize gently. Avoid forceful blowing.
rupture of the round window. Round-window rupture • Stop descent if ear blockage or fullness develops.
requires surgical repair. Injuries to the eardrum or inner ear Ascend until symptoms resolve, even if you must
may occur with as little as three pounds of pressure differ- return to the surface.
ential and can happen at any depth. It’s usually more diffi-
cult to equalize during descent than ascent because the air Treatment:
passes out of the middle ear through the eustachian tube Ear drum rupture should be treated according to the pro-
more easily than into the middle ear. cedures for treating middle ear barotrauma. See a physician.

3-14 NOAA Diving Manual Sinuses
The term “sinus” can mean any channel, hollow
Frontal space, or cavity in a bone, or a dilated area in a blood ves-
Frontal Sinus
Sinus sel or soft tissue; most often sinus refers to the four, paired,
mucus-lined, air cavities in the facial bones of the head.
Sinus cavities are shown in Figure 3.15.
The same kind of membrane lines the sinuses and
nose, so nasal infections spread easily to the sinuses. In
Ethmoid sinusitis, mucous membranes inflame and swell, closing
Sinus Ethmoid
sinus openings and preventing infected material from
draining. If nasal inflammation, congestion, deformities, or
Maxillary Maxillary masses block sinus openings, the sinus lining swells and
Sinus Sinus inflames, absorbing pre-existing gas which forms negative
pressure. When blockage occurs during descent, the rela-
Sphenoid Sinus Sphenoid Sinus tive vacuum in the sinus increases the risk of damage.
Hemorrhage into the sinus may occur.
Frontal Don’t dive if you have congested sinuses. Various over-
Sinus the-counter and prescription medications open sinus passages.
If a decongestant wears off during your dive, the sinuses
Cranial Cavity become closed spaces (rebound effect) containing high pres-
Ethmoid sure air. This can lead to a reverse block on ascent. Sinus
Sinus barotrauma can also occur during ascent if blockage of a one-
way valve of the sinus, by inflamed mucosa, cysts, or polyps,
Sinus allows equalization on descent, but impairs it on ascent.

Signs and Symptoms:

• Sensation of fullness or pain in the vicinity of the
involved sinus or in the upper teeth
• Numbness of the front of the face
• Bleeding from the nose
The treatment of sinus squeeze may involve the use of
Opening to Pharynx nasal decongestants, vasoconstrictors, and antihistamines
Eustachian Tube taken by mouth. These medications will promote nasal
mucosal shrinkage and opening of the sinus. Most of the
symptoms of paranasal sinus barotrauma disappear within
FIGURE 3.15 five to ten days without serious complications. Divers who
Sinus Cavities in the Head have symptoms for longer periods should see a specialist. If
severe pain and nasal bleeding are present or if there is a
yellow or greenish nasal discharge, with or without fever, a
specialist should be seen promptly. Individuals with a his-
tory of nasal or sinus problems should have a complete
otolaryngologic evaluation before beginning to dive. Lungs
On a breath-hold dive, there is no compressed air sup-
ply. So lung pressure cannot be equalized with ambient-
pressure. Lung spaces compress with increasing depth (see
Figure 3.16). It used to be thought that the lungs compress
by the simple pressure-volume relationship of Boyle’s Law;
that is at five times surface pressure (132 ft. or 40 m) lung
At At
Depth Surface
volume would compress to 1/5 volume, which can become
less than residual volume, depending on the size of the
lungs. At such low volume, a condition called thoracic
FIGURE 3.16 squeeze would develop, including pulmonary congestion,
Effect of Descent/Ascent on Lungs swelling, and hemorrhage of the lung tissue.

Diving Physiology 3-15

for symptoms of shock, and treatment for shock should be
Cerebral Gas Embolism instituted, if necessary. The dive accident management
plan should be initiated.

Air Passes Via Eyes

Carotid Arteries To Non-compressible fluids fill the eyes, protecting
Brain (Embolism) them against direct water pressure. Use of a mask pre-
serves underwater vision, but introduces an air-space
around the eyes that must be equalized with ambient
pressure during descent. Without equalization, negative
pressure in the mask space creates suction on the eyes
and lids. Swelling, bruising, and bleeding can occur in
Alveoli the mucous membrane lining the eyelid (conjunctiva). A
more serious injury can also occur — blood in the anteri-
or chamber of the eye, called hyphema. To prevent mask
squeeze, mask pressure is equalized by exhaling through
the nose during descent. During ascent, air vents harm-
lessly out of the mask.

Signs and Symptoms:

• Sensation of suction on the face, or of mask being
forced into face
• Pain or a squeezing sensation
Air Passes Along Air Enters Air Enters
• Face swollen or bruised
Bronchi To Pleural Cavity Blood Vessel
Mediastinum (Pneumothorax) (Embolism) • Whites of eyes bright red
Ice packs should be applied to the damaged tissues and
pain relievers may be administered if required. In serious
Consequences of Overinflation of the Lungs
cases, the services of a physician knowledgeable in diving
medicine should be obtained.
However, the body has many self-regulatory abilities.
Thoracic squeeze does not readily occur, even at far greater 3.3.2 Direct Effects of Pressure During Ascent
depths. Compression during descent shifts blood from the During ascent, ambient pressure decreases and air in
extremities and abdomen into thoracic blood vessels, main- the body’s air spaces expands. When this air vents freely,
taining a larger than predicted lung volume. Lung volume there is no problem. When expanding air is blocked from
can fall below residual volume without the damage previ- venting, overinflation occurs and increases the possibility
ously thought. Record free dives to over 400 ft. (122 m) of overpressurization injury.
have been successful. Such dives are not without other This section covers barotrauma during ascent, as
dangers; they should not be attempted without extraordi- decreasing pressure affects the lungs, gastrointestinal tract,
nary preparation and training. teeth, and the space behind contact lenses.

Signs and Symptoms: Lungs—Pneumothorax

• Feeling of chest compression during descent If breathing is normal and there are not any lung lesions
• Pain in the chest or conditions that obstruct air flow, lungs will vent expand-
• Difficulty in breathing on return to the surface ing air on ascent without problem. If expanding air is blocked
• Bloody sputum from exiting, the lungs will overinflate, thus damaging the
alveoli and bronchial passages. Breath-holding or insufficient
Treatment: exhalation can create general lung barotrauma; obstruction
In severe cases of lung squeeze, the diver requires from chronic or acute respiratory diseases, or bronchospasm
assistance to the surface. The diver should be placed face with asthma, can result in localized lung overpressure and
down, and blood should be cleared from the mouth. If barotrauma. If expanding air ruptures the lung, air escapes
breathing has ceased, cardiopulmonary resuscitation with into the small, normally airless area between lungs and chest
oxygen should be administered. Attendants should be alert wall (see Figure 3.17). This injury is called pneumothorax.

3-16 NOAA Diving Manual

Simple Pneumothorax
• Normally improves with time as air is reabsorbed.
• Monitor for signs of tension pneumothorax.
Bubbles • Monitor ABC (airway, breathing, and circulation)
and administer 100 percent oxygen.
• Transport to nearest medical facility.

Tension Pneumothorax
• Position patient on injured side.
• ABC.
• Treat for shock and administer 100 percent oxygen.
• Transport immediately to nearest medical facility
(air must be vented from chest cavity).


Lungs Ñ Pneumothorax Lungs—Mediastinal Emphysema
Emphysema, in general, means an abnormal disten-
The lungs are attached to the chest wall by a thin, tion of body tissues from retention of air. The most
paired membrane called the pleura. The two pleural mem- familiar type of emphysema usually results from smoking
branes lie so close to each other that they touch. A watery or other lung pollution, and permanently overexpands
fluid lubricates the layer between them, making a suction and damages alveoli. In mediastinal emphysema, air
between the layers, which holds open the lungs. Air rup- escapes from a lung overpressurization into tissues
turing the lung walls vents air into the pleural cavity, around the heart, major blood vessels, and trachea
breaking the suction. There are two types of pneumotho- (windpipe). This gas expands on ascent, causing pain
rax; simple and tension. A simple pneumothorax is a one under the sternum (breast-bone), shortness of breath, or,
time leaking of air into the pleura cavity. A tension pneu- in extreme cases, fainting from impaired blood return to
mothorax is a repeated leaking of air from the lungs into the heart (see Figure 3.19).
the pleural cavity with each successive breath, thus pro-
gressively enlarging the air pocket. A large amount of air Signs and Symptoms:
between pleural membranes prevents the lungs from • Pain under the breastbone that may radiate to the
expanding. Trapped intrapleural gas expands as ascent neck, collarbone, or shoulder
continues, increasing pressure in the chest cavity. A lung • Shortness of breath
may collapse, and the heart may push out of normal posi- • Faintness
tion, causing sudden severe pain, difficulty breathing, and, • Blueness (cyanosis) of the skin, lips, or nailbeds
rarely, coughing frothy blood or death from shock (see • Difficulty in breathing
Figure 3.18). • Shock
• Swelling around the neck
Signs and Symptoms: • A brassy quality to the voice
• Difficulty or rapid breathing • A sensation of pressure on the windpipe
• Leaning toward affected side • Cough
• Hypotension • Deviation of adams apple to affected side
• Cyanosis and shock
• Chest pain (deep breath hurts) Treatment:
• Shortness of breath • ABC
• Decreased or absent lung sounds on affected side • Administer oxygen and monitor for shock
• Rapid, shallow breathing • Examine diver for other signs of pulmonary barotrau-
• Death ma

Diving Physiology 3-17

Bubbles Bubbles

Heart Heart Pulmonary Vein


Lungs Ñ Mediastinal Emphysema and Subcuta- Arterial Gas Embolism
neous Emphysema

• Mediastinal emphysema causing respiratory or circu- When a diver holds his breath or has local air trapped in
latory impairment may require recompression. his lungs during ascent, the volume of gas in the lungs
• Transport to the nearest medical facility. increases due to a reduction in ambient pressure. Alveoli
can rupture or air can be forced across apparently intact Lungs—Subcutaneous Emphysema
alveoli. If air bubbles enter the pulmonary veins, they trav-
Subcutaneous emphysema results from air forced into
el to the left side of the heart muscle, and then commonly
tissues beneath the skin of the neck. It can be associated
on through the carotid arteries to embolize the brain. As
with mediastinal emphysema or can occur alone (see Fig-
the bubbles pass into smaller arteries, they reach a point
ure 3.19).
where they can move no further, and here they stop circu-
Signs and Symptoms: lation. Deprived of oxygen, those tissues die.
• Feeling of fullness in the neck area Arterial gas embolism may occur quickly after surfacing
• Swelling or inflation around the neck and upper chest with damage depending on the area involved. There is no
• Crackling sensation when skin is palpated way to predict which area will be affected. Symptoms of arte-
• Change in sound of voice rial gas embolism usually occur immediately or within five
• Cough minutes of surfacing. Prompt recompression is the only treat-
ment for gas embolism.
Treatment: One, a few, or all of the symptoms listed below may be
Unless complicated by gas embolism, recompression is present.
not normally required. The services of a physician should be
obtained and oxygen should be administered if breathing is Signs and Symptoms:
impaired. • Chest pain
• Cough or shortness of breath Arterial Gas Embolism • Bloody, frothy sputum
An arterial gas embolism occurs when a bubble of gas • Headache
(or air) causes a blockage of the blood supply to the heart, • Visual disturbances including blindness, partial or
brain, or other vital tissue (see Figure 3.20). Arterial gas complete
embolism may be abbreviated AGE. A cerebral (brain) arteri- • Numbness or tingling (paresthesias)
al gas embolism is abbreviated CAGE. • Weakness or paralysis
The bubble tends to increase in size as the pressure • Loss of, or change in, sensation over part of body
decreases (Boyle’s Law), which makes the blockage worse. • Dizziness

3-18 NOAA Diving Manual

• Confusion Stomach and Intestine
• Sudden unconsciousness (usually immediately after Only a small amount of gas is normally present in the
surfacing, but sometimes before surfacing) small intestine at any time. Although gas enters or forms in
• Respiratory arrest larger quantities, most is usually absorbed back through the
• Death intestinal mucosa. Any air remaining in the stomach and
large intestine compresses with descent and returns to nor-
WARNING mal volume on ascent. The intestines are surrounded by
ARTERIAL GAS EMBOLISM IS LIFE THREATENING soft tissue so compression and expansion are, normally,
AND REQUIRES IMMEDIATE TREATMENT. neither hazardous nor noticeable.
If you add enough gas to the system while under
Prevention: water, the gas will expand on ascent. These gases can be
• Never hold your breath when diving with com- generated by swallowing air, or within the intestine from
pressed gases carbon dioxide liberated by reactions between gastric and
• Ascend slowly (30 feet per minute) pancreatic juices, or a prior gas-producing meal. Ambient
• Do not dive with a chest cold or obstructed air pas- pressure pushing on a stomach full of gas can cause belch-
sages ing or back flow of stomach contents (heartburn). Severe
• Maintain good physical fitness, nutrition, and hydra- injury is rare. With a hernia, expanding gas trapped in a
tion loop of bowel could make the hernia irreducible.
• Carry sufficient quantities of gas to complete the To prevent gastrointestinal (GI) barotrauma, breathe
dive normally, don’t swallow air, and avoid large meals and
gas-producing food and drink before diving. Should GI dis-
Treatment: tress occur on ascent, descend to relieve discomfort, and
• Establish and maintain ABC, and initiate cardiopul- slowly re-ascend. It may help to keep the legs moving. If
monary resuscitation, if necessary surfacing is necessary before relieving pressure, try various
• Administer 100 percent oxygen with the injured over-the-counter, anti-gas preparations. In extreme cases,
diver supine or in recovery position get medical attention.
• Transport to nearest medical facility and initiate
recompression treatment ASAP Teeth
• Perform a physical examination, including neurolog- Barodontalgia means “tooth pain.” It occurs when a
ical examination, as soon as situation permits small pocket of gas collected in a tooth during the dive
• Provide additional life support measures expands on ascent. Tooth pain has been reported during
• Reassess diver’s condition regularly air travel as well.
The air space may be generated by decay resulting in an
Rescuers and attendants must be aware that many area for gas to collect under a filling. Other causes of tooth
embolism patients are also near-drowning victims. Posi- squeeze include recent extractions, gum infections that have
tion the injured diver in a supine or the recovery posi- formed periodontal pockets, large areas of decay where the
tion. Injured diver position should not be allowed to pulp is infected, abscesses, recent fillings, and recent root
interfere with the immediate administration of CPR. canal therapy. Part of the root canal procedure is to dry and
Administer 100 percent oxygen with a tight-fitting temporarily seal the canal between treatments with a materi-
oronasal mask by demand/positive-pressure valve or al designed for pressure of one atmosphere. Exposure to
non-rebreather mask at 15-lpm, and transport the patient higher pressures can produce small leaks that cannot release
as rapidly as possible to a medical facility for recompres- air fast enough during ascent. Trapped air can shatter full
sion treatment. A gas embolism case is a minute-to- porcelain crowns in teeth where the cement bond is failing.
minute emergency transfer. The chances of full recovery Gas accumulated slowly during a saturation dive has been
decrease with each minute lost in returning the patient to known to (rarely) cause tooth cracking and even explosion.
pressure. If air transportation is required, the patient Tooth squeeze is not common, but prevention is worth
must not be exposed to decreased cabin pressure during keeping in mind. Keep teeth clean, have cavities filled and
transit; consequently, aircraft capable of being pressur- ill-fitting crowns replaced. Complete endodontic therapy
ized to sea level must be used. A helicopter or unpressur- before diving. Before undergoing any dental work, inform
ized aircraft must be flown as low as is safely possible. the dentist of diving status.
Despite the decreased chance of recovery if therapy is
delayed, patients have responded even after several hours Contact Lenses
delay. Victims should not be taken back into the water Bubbles have been found in the precorneal film of tears
for treatment. beneath hard contact lenses after ascent. Affected divers

Diving Physiology 3-19

Narcotic Effects of Compressed Air Diving

Guideline Depths

Feet Meters Effect

0-100 0-30.5 Mild impairment of performance on unpracticed tasks.

Mild euphoria.

100 30.5 Reasoning and immediate memory affected more than motor coordination and
choice reactions. Delayed response to visual and auditory stimuli.

100-165 30.5-50-3 Laughter and loquacity may be overcome by self control.

Idea fixation and overconfidence.
Calculation errors.

165 50.3 Sleepiness, hallucinations, impaired judgment.

165-230 50.3-70.1 Convivial group atmosphere. May be terror reaction in some.

Talkative. Dizziness reported occasionally.
Uncontrolled laughter approaching hysteria in some.

230 70.1 Severe impairment of intellectual performance. Manual dexterity less affected.

230-300 70.1-91.5 Gross delay in response to stimuli. Diminished concentration.

Mental confusion. Increased auditory sensitivity, i.e. sounds seem louder.

300 91.5 Stupefaction. Severe impairment of practical activity and judgment.

Mental abnormalities and memory defects. Deterioration in handwriting,
euphoria, hyperexcitablity.
Almost total loss of intellectual and perceptive faculties.

300 91.5 Hallucinations (similar to those caused by hallucinogenic drugs rather than alcohol).

experienced soreness, decreased visual acuity, and the or frightening, particularly in limited visibility or cold
appearance of halos around lights for about two hours after water. Even if pleasant, narcosis impairs intellectual capac-
ascent. Divers who wear contact lenses should use either ities, short-term memory, time perception, orientation,
soft lenses or hard fenestrated lenses (hard lenses with a judgment, reasoning, and the ability to perform mental
special hole drilled). Consult with an ophthalmologist. functions, making it difficult to monitor time, depth, air
supply, or the location of a buddy. Dive plan information
3.3.3 Indirect Effects of Pressure During Descent may be forgotten. Spatial orientation may become a matter
Indirect effects of pressure occur from changes in the of complete indifference. Severe narcosis can produce hal-
partial pressure of the gases in the breathing mix. This sec- lucinations, bizarre behavior, or loss of consciousness.
tion covers inert gas narcosis, high pressure nervous syn- Physical problems include decreased motor ability and
drome (HPNS), and oxygen toxicity. slowed reaction time. Because it decreases perceptions of
cold and decreases heat production, narcosis may play an Inert Gas Narcosis important role in diving hypothermia. Despite the popular
Inert gas narcosis is a condition of confusion or stupor belief, narcosis does not slow respiration. Narcosis is dan-
resulting from increased pressure of dissolved inert gas. gerous because it increases the risk of an accident while
The most common inert gas narcosis is nitrogen narcosis. diminishing the ability to cope with one.
The gases producing narcosis have no effect if they are Impairment increases with depth. Narcosis is often first
not breathed under pressure. High pressure dissolves gas in noticed at approximately 100 feet (31 m) when breathing com-
the protein coverings of nerve cell membranes, depressing pressed air. Wide variations in susceptibility occur; although,
nerve excitability and interfering with signals. Of course, at greater depths, most compressed-air divers are affected (see
there are other factors involved in this complex and incom- Table 3.3).
pletely understood phenomenon. Helium causes minimal narcosis, making it useful at
Although often portrayed as such, narcosis is not depths where nitrogen narcosis would incapacitate a diver.
always rapturous or intoxicating. Effects can be unpleasant Two other inert gases used in experimental diving are

3-20 NOAA Diving Manual

neon and argon. Neon is not narcotic; however, argon is nar-
cotic at deeper depths. Interestingly, it appears that too high Con – Convulsion
an oxygen level can leave some oxygen in the tissues unme- V – Visual disturbances, including tunnel vision
tabolized. To the extent that it is present in certain tissues,
oxygen may also act as an inert gas and produce narcosis E – Ear ringing
(Bennett and Elliott 1993). N – Nausea
Several factors can compound the effects of narcosis: T – Tingling, twitching or muscle spasms, especially
CO2, fatigue, anxiety, cold, alcohol, and hangovers. Med- of the face and lips
ications that might cause drowsiness or reduce alertness,
such as motion sickness remedies and sedatives, or sedat- I – Irritability, restlessness, euphoria, anxiety
ing recreational drugs, also contribute to narcosis. This is D – Dizziness, dyspnea
consistent with the view that narcosis depresses the central
nervous system (CNS). Narcosis rapidly reverses with
ascent, though divers who have experienced narcosis may FIGURE 3.21
not remember events occurring at depth. CNS Oxygen Toxicity Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms: CNS: Central Nervous System

• Loss of judgment and skill CNS oxygen toxicity can occur at the high end of PO2
• A false feeling of well being levels, even after short exposures. Typically, it can develop
• Lack of concern for job or safety within a few to many minutes on exposure to partial pres-
• Inappropriate laughter sures of oxygen above 1.6 atm (roughly 5 to 50 min, but
• Euphoria this is highly variable) (Lambertsen 1978). The end result
may be an epileptic-like convulsion that is not damaging in
Prevention and Treatment: itself, but can result in drowning or physical injury. The
There is no specific treatment for nitrogen narcosis. A acronym CONVENTID (see Figure 3.21) is a simple way to
diver experiencing narcosis must be brought to a shallower remember all the signs and symptoms of CNS oxygen toxi-
depth, where the effects will be reversed. city. It is important to note that these symptoms may come
in any order. High Pressure Nervous Syndrome (HPNS) There are other signs and symptoms of CNS toxicity.
High pressure nervous syndrome (HPNS) occurs at Not onerous in themselves, they are justification to stop a
depths greater than 400 fsw (123 msw). First noted in the dive. They include twitching of lips and facial muscles,
1960s, HPNS was initially thought to be an effect of breath- visual or hearing disturbances, nausea, dizziness, difficulty
ing helium, so it was called helium tremors. At that time, in breathing (dyspnea), anxiety, confusion, poor coordina-
helium was the most commonly used diluent gas for diving tion, and unusual fatigue. These may warn of an impend-
at deeper depths. HPNS becomes worse with increasing ing convulsion; however, a convulsion is just as likely to
pressure and rate of compression. occur without any warning. Divers have been known to
HPNS is characterized by dizziness, nausea, vomiting, “black out” or go unconscious without a convulsion; this
postural and intention tremors, fatigue and somnolence, may be a manifestation of oxygen toxicity.
sudden muscle twitching (called myoclonic jerking), stom-
ach cramps, intellectual and psychomotor performance Lung and “Whole-Body”
decrements, and poor sleep with nightmares. Slower developing oxygen toxicities may follow expo-
Adding a small amount (5-10%) of nitrogen into the sure to lower levels of oxygen for longer times. The lung is
breathing mix reduces HPNS. At high pressure, nitrogen is a the principal organ affected, but many other parts of the
neural depressant. Other methods of preventing or reducing body can be affected as well. Therefore, the term “whole-
HPNS include slow, steady compression, stage compression body” toxicity is used to include the affected parts of the
with long intervals, exponential compression rates, and care- body other than the CNS.
ful personnel selection. A classical symptom of whole-body toxicity is pul-
monary irritation, the result of oxygen’s effect on the Oxygen Toxicity lung. Such a symptom usually takes hours or longer to
Given oxygen’s metabolic effects, it should be no great develop from exposure levels that may be lower than
surprise that in excess it can be toxic. In fact, all living things those that cause CNS symptoms. Whole-body oxygen
have enzymes and other mechanisms that protect against toxicity is generally of little concern to divers doing no-
oxygen’s toxicities. There are two types of oxygen poisoning stop dives, even when breathing oxygen-enriched mix-
for which divers must be concerned: those affecting the cen- tures, but it may be seen during intensive diving
tral nervous system (CNS), and those affecting many other operations or during long oxygen treatments for decom-
parts of the body more generally, particularly the lungs. pression sickness in a hyperbaric chamber. Symptoms are

Diving Physiology 3-21

chest pain or discomfort, coughing, inability to take a people most of the time, but they are not guaranteed to
deep breath without pain or coughing, a development of work for all people all of the time under all circum-
fluid in the lungs, and a reduction in vital capacity. Non- stances. They may need to be more conservative when
pulmonary symptoms of “whole-body” oxygen toxicity conditions are more stressful.
include skin numbness and itching, headache, dizziness, Diving with procedures described in this chapter
nausea, effects on the eyes, and a dramatic reduction of imposes a relatively low risk of oxygen toxicity. The expo-
aerobic capacity during exercise. sures are short and outside the limits that are expected to
cause problems. Variations in Tolerance
There is wide variation in susceptibility to oxygen tox- Prevention of CNS Poisoning
icity among individuals, and a significant variation in a With the help of experts, NOAA developed estimated
single individual at different times. Part of this latter varia- oxygen exposure limits that were published in the 1991
tion is due to unknown causes, but a large part can be version of the NOAA Diving Manual. These limits are
attributed to known environmental and physiological cir- shown in Table 3.4. They are intended for a diver doing
cumstances. Susceptibility to CNS toxicity is increased by dives for research, sampling, inspection, observation, and
certain factors, particularly those that cause an increase in light to moderate work at the higher PO2 levels. The lower
internal PCO2, such as exercise, breathing dense gas, or levels can be used for heavier and more stressful types of
breathing against a resistance. Immersion, dramatic work.
changes of temperature, and physical exertion also For each level of oxygen, the chart shows an allowable
increases ones susceptibility to CNS oxygen toxicity. time for a single exposure and also an accumulated time at
These differences make it difficult to predict the occur- that level over a full day.
rence of CNS oxygen toxicity. If more than one dive is made to the maximum expo-
sure of a PO2 of 1.6 ata, a suggested surface interval of at Benefits of Intermittent Exposure least 90 minutes is advised between dives (three dives of 45
Oxygen poisoning can be reduced or postponed by minutes each would theoretically be possible within the
interrupting the exposure time (U.S.Navy Diving Manual 150-minutes daily total allowed at 1.6 ata PO2). This helps
1999). If “breaks” in periods of low oxygen are taken dur- lower the accumulated oxygen dose. This only applies to
ing oxygen breathing, tolerance is greatly improved. In the the exposure at 1.6 ata, because only one maximal dive can
U.S.N. tables for treatment of decompression sickness be done in a single day with lower oxygen exposure levels.
using oxygen, breaks of five minutes of air breathing are If, however, one or more dives in a 24-hour period
taken every 20 or 30 minutes of oxygen breathing at high have reached or exceeded the limits for a normal single
PO2 levels. This avoids oxygen convulsions in all but very exposure, the diver should spend a minimum of two hours
rare cases and also postpones pulmonary toxicity. In situa- at a normoxic PO2 (such as on the surface breathing air)
tions where supplemental oxygen or high oxygen content before resuming diving. If diving in a 24-hour period reach-
mixtures are used for decompression, it is strongly recom- es the Maximum 24-hour Limit, the diver must spend a
mended that a five minute “air” break be taken every 20 minimum of 12 hours at normoxic PO 2 before diving
minutes to minimize the risk of oxygen poisoning. again. Concepts of Oxygen Exposure Management The “Oxygen Clock” or “O2 Limit Fraction”
The traditional method used for prevention of CNS oxy- These exposure limits are sometimes referred to as
gen toxicity is to stay within exposure durations that are based the “oxygen clock” in percentage of the allowable limit,
on the oxygen level, or PO2, to which the diver is exposed or the “O2 limit fraction” as a decimal fraction of the
(U.S.Navy Diving Manual 1999). These limits allow a cer- limit (Hamilton 1988). For single dives to a single depth
tain time at each PO2 range. Such an approach has been (square profile), calculating the percentage of oxygen
practiced by the U.S. Navy and by NOAA for many years in exposure is as simple as dividing the minutes of the
their procedures for mixed gas and oxygen diving. exposure by the maximum allowable exposure time at a
As with decompression, a limit appears to be imple- given PO2. However, it is rare that a diver is ever at one
mented as if it were a solid line dividing “no problems” depth for the entire dive. Although the principle has not
from “guaranteed problems.” Actually, a limit is a solid been verified experimentally, it is customary to add the
line drawn through a wide gray area of gradually increas- percentages or fractions of exposure for different parts of
ing risk. The limits given here and in other limit-based the dive to calculate an estimated total oxygen exposure
algorithms (such as a decompression table) are recom- for a given dive.
mended guidelines for use under normal conditions. It is not necessary to have a dive computer to track
They have been proven in practice. They work for most these exposures if the dive can be separated into segments

3-22 NOAA Diving Manual

TABLE 3.4 that have a predominant or average level. The times spent
NOAA Oxygen Exposure Limits at each depth or exposure level can be assigned a fraction
or percentage of the “allowable” limit, and these can sim-
Maximum Single Maximum ply be added together. Table 3.5 allows these segments to
PO2 Exposure per 24 hr be determined from a chart.
(atm) (minutes) (minutes) For multilevel dives or more than one dive of less than
1.60 45 150 maximum allowed duration, it is possible to interpolate the
limit values. That is to say, at any level the full limit on the
1.55 83 165
oxygen clock is 100 percent of the limit, or an O2 limit frac-
1.50 120 180 tion of 1.0. Exposures at all levels are totaled. For example,
1.45 135 180 at 1.4 atm the allowable exposure time is 150 minutes (see
Figure 3.22). If a diver has an exposure to that level for 75
1.40 150 180
minutes, half the allowable time, this would run the oxygen
1.35 165 195 clock to 50 percent of the limit or the limit fraction to 0.5. If
1.30 180 210 there is additional exposure on the same dive, for example,
60 minutes at 1.3 PO2, for which the allowable time is 180
1.25 195 225 minutes, an additional one-third, 33 percent or 0.33 is
1.20 210 240 added, giving an oxygen clock now of 83 percent or a limit
1.10 240 270 fraction of 0.83. When the total reaches 100 percent or 1.0,
the diver is considered to have reached the allowable limit,
1.00 300 300 and further exposure to elevated oxygen is at increased risk.
0.90 360 360 Diving beyond the limit is not recommended.
Although there has been no specific laboratory valida-
0.80 450 450
tion of this technique of interpolating the exposure times, it
0.70 570 570 appears to work in practice. The NOAA oxygen exposure
0.60 720 720 limits have been shown to be reasonable limits through
extensive use.

CNS Oxygen Exposure Table

Oxygen Single Dive Bottom Time Values

PO2 Single Dive
Limit (minutes)
PO2 atm (minutes)
Limit Min 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50 55 60
1.20 210 2% 5% 7% 10% 12% 14% 17% 19% 21% 24% 26% 29%
1.25 195 3% 5% 8% 10% 13% 15% 18% 21% 23% 26% 28% 31%
1.30 180 3% 6% 8% 11% 14% 17% 19% 22% 25% 28% 31% 33%
1.35 165 3% 6% 9% 12% 15% 18% 21% 24% 27% 30% 33% 36%
1.40 150 3% 7% 10% 13% 17% 20% 23% 27% 30% 33% 37% 40%
1.45 135 4% 7% 11% 15% 19% 22% 26% 30% 33% 37% 41% 44%
1.50 120 4% 8% 13% 17% 21% 25% 29% 33% 38% 42% 46% 50%
1.55 82 6% 12% 18% 24% 30% 36% 42% 48% 55% 61% 67% 73%
1.60 45 11% 22% 33% 44% 56% 67% 78% 89% 100% 111% 122% 133%

Note: Oxygen exposure is a percentage of NOAAÕs allowable limits. The 1.60 atm PO 2 level; the Òoxygen clockÓ runs more than
three times as fast at 1.60 atm than at a PO2 level of 1.40 atm. Values for intermediate Ò0.05Ó PO 2 values are linearly interpolated.
Values in table are normally rounded. Highlighted percentages indicate times exceeding the NOAA oxygen exposure limits.

Diving Physiology 3-23

The Repex method provides procedures for avoiding
Oxygen Single Dive Actual Dive toxic effects during extended operational exposures and
PO2 Limit Time % Limit takes recovery into account.
1.40 atm 150 min 75 min 50% Tracking OTUs is not of great importance when the
dives are of a no-stop nature. It is when the diver will be
1.30 atm 180 min 60 min 33%
conducting many dives over more than three days, and
Totals: 135 min 88% where the exposures get lengthy, that OTU tracking will be
of significant value.
FIGURE 3.22 Table 3.6 gives the empirically determined Repex limits
Multi-Level Dive Oxygen Exposure for whole-body oxygen exposure. The Repex limits allow a
greater exposure for a diver who has not been exposed Prevention of Lung or Whole-Body Toxicity recently, but the allowable daily dose decreases as exposure
Other parts of the body are sensitive to excess oxygen, days increase. The total for a given “mission” or exposure
especially the lungs. Pulmonary oxygen toxicity, and in period is given in the third column. Table 3.7 facilitates cal-
due course other whole-body aspects, can become a prob- culating OTU or UPTD per minute for a range of PO2s.
lem in extended or repeated oxygen-based decompressions,
and in treatments in a recompression chamber. These con- 3.3.4 Indirect Effects of Pressure During Ascent
ditions are unlikely to be encountered in nitrox diving; in This section covers inert gas elimination, decompres-
fact, they are not significantly more likely than in ordinary sion sickness, counterdiffusion, and aseptic bone necrosis
scuba diving with air. However, procedures have been (dysbaric osteonecrosis).
developed for managing this toxicity, and it is helpful for
the diver to be acquainted with the general methods and Inert Gas Elimination
terminology (U.S.Navy Diving Manual 1999). Even on land there is pressure on the body. This pressure
On continued exposure to above normal PO2, gener- comes from the atmosphere and dissolves nitrogen every-
ally at levels below those causing CNS toxicity but above where in the body until the internal nitrogen pressure reaches
a PO2 of 0.5 atm, the lungs may show symptoms and a about the same as nitrogen pressure in the blood. It is not
reduction in vital capacity. Vital capacity is the maxi- exactly the same as the ambient nitrogen pressure because
mum amount of gas that a person can exhale after taking water vapor and carbon dioxide from the body “dilutes” the
a full inspiration. Although it takes training to get repro- air breathed. Subtracting the small water vapor pressure and
ducible data, vital capacity is relatively easy to measure; arterial CO2 values gives the blood nitrogen tension. This,
it has been used as the primary indicator for pulmonary more or less, is the starting nitrogen tension.
toxicity. At the laboratory of Dr. C.J. Lambertsen at the At depth, water pressure increases the nitrogen dis-
University of Pennsylvania, empirical methods were solved in the body. Upon ascent, or at increased elevation
developed in the early 1970s to use vital capacity as a on land, extra nitrogen begins coming back out of the
monitor for pulmonary effects of oxygen exposure. body. Ascend slowly enough and the nitrogen passes into
Among the developments was a “unit” for measuring the bloodstream, still dissolved, then travels to the lungs
and tracking oxygen exposure, the UPTD or Unit Pul- where it is exhaled. This process continues until the inter-
monary Toxicity Dose, as a function of PO2 and time. nal nitrogen pressure is again equal to ambient. Come up
The dose measure was conceived around a basic unit of too fast and nitrogen can’t stay dissolved. It begins to
exposure equivalent to one minute of breathing 100 percent become a gas again before it can be exhaled and forms
oxygen at a pressure of one atm. At PO2 levels above this, bubbles inside the body. This triggers a cascade of prob-
the dose increases more rapidly as the PO2 increases. This lems that become decompression sickness (see Section
toxicity appears to have a threshold at 0.5 atm PO2 below
which toxicity development is insignificant. The unit dose Taking up inert gas by the body is called absorption or
for different exposure levels was determined by fitting a curve on-gassing. Giving up gas is called elimination or off-
to empirical data, then deriving an equation to describe the gassing. Nitrogen and carbon monoxide enter and leave
curve. This equation is available in several references, the body in real and measurable units of time. The units
including the Underwater Handbook, (Shilling et al. 1976, p. are called half-times. Half-times refer to the time in min-
158), which includes “look-up” tables for deriving doses from utes necessary to uptake or eliminate enough nitrogen to
exposure data. The method also used an additional dose fill or empty half the area with gas. A half-time is the same
term, CPTD, a measure of the Cumulative Pulmonary Toxi- as a half-life of radioactivity, which is the time needed for
city Dose. The method does not include a means of calculat- half the nuclei in a specific isotopic to decay.
ing recovery when exposure is below 0.5 atm PO2. Half-times describe real biological processes, not just
A more recent approach, designated the Repex theoretical numbers. How fast the body areas equilibrate
method, allows doses to be calculated or tabulated the with ambient pressure depends on the volume of blood flow
same way using the same equation but calls the single dose and the capacity of the area to absorb the dissolved gas.
unit, OTU or Oxygen Tolerance Unit (see Table 3.6 ). Different areas of the body are made of different materials

3-24 NOAA Diving Manual

REPEX Oxygen Exposure Chart for OTU Calculation Table
Tolerable Multiple Day Exposures
OTU OTU PO2 OTU Per Minute
Exposure Average Total (atm)
Days Dose Dose
0.50 0
1 850 850
0.55 0.15
2 700 1400 0.60 0.27

3 620 1860 0.65 0.37

0.70 0.47
4 525 2100
0.75 0.56
5 460 2300 0.80 0.65

6 420 2520 0.85 0.74

0.90 0.83
7 380 2660
0.95 0.92
8 350 2800 1.00 1.00

9 330 2970 1.05 1.08

1.10 1.16
10 310 3100
1.15 1.24
11 300 3300 1.20 1.32

12 300 3600 1.25 1.40

1.30 1.48
13 300 3900
1.35 1.55
14 300 4200 1.40 1.63

15-30 300 as 1.45 1.70

required 1.50 1.78
1.55 1.85
1.60 1.92
and have varying blood supplies, so some take up nitrogen 1.65 2.00
slowly, while others do it faster. These are called the slow 1.70 2.07
and fast compartments, or tissues. In decompression, the
term “tissue” or “compartment” means the different body 1.75 2.14
areas that on-gas and off-gas at the same rate. The areas 1.80 2.21
that are grouped into each compartment designation might
1.85 2.28
be scattered all over the body. For example, fatty tissues
hold more gas than watery tissues, and take longer than 1.90 2.35
watery tissues to absorb and eliminate inert gas; these are 1.95 2.42
called “slow” compartments. Fast compartments usually
2.00 2.49
build higher amounts of nitrogen after a dive than slower
ones because they on-gas more in the same period of time.

Diving Physiology 3-25

When a compartment fills to capacity, it is called saturat- Several complicated factors can slow the release of
ed. Given enough time, the pressure of nitrogen in all the dif- nitrogen from the body. However, for practical applica-
ferent compartments will eventually equal ambient pressure, tions like calculating decompression tables, off-gassing is
and thus, the entire body is saturated. On most dives, there is considered to proceed at the same half-time rate as on-
not enough time for total saturation. Faster compartments gassing. This means that after any dive, it takes six hours
may be saturated, while slow compartments may be practical- for the 60-minute compartment to return to its starting
ly empty, while other compartments attain middling pressure. amount of nitrogen, and 12 hours for the 120-minute half-
Differences in solubility and rates of gas diffusion time compartment to return to starting pressure—equilibra-
give different gases different half-times. Helium is much tion with ambient pressure on land.
less soluble in tissues than nitrogen, but it diffuses faster, From another perspective, oxygen can significantly
so helium equilibration occurs faster than for nitrogen. enhance decompression. Decompression requirements are
Still, the basic principles of absorption and elimination dictated by the on-gassing of inert gases. By breathing 100
apply for any inert gas breathed. On ascent, for example, percent oxygen, the inert gas gradient is significantly
the diver’s tissues, especially the slow compartments, increased, thus increasing inert gas elimination from the
may continue to absorb nitrogen. During most dives, body. For example, pure oxygen can be used to shorten
there isn’t time for slower compartments to equilibrate decompression on the 20 and 10 fsw stops. In addition,
with ambient pressure; these compartments have a lower high oxygen content mixtures can also be used to shorten
pressure than the surrounding water. During ascent, decompression from the 30 fsw stop and deeper. Mixes
ambient pressure can drive nitrogen into slow tissues, rich in oxygen have proven to substantially improve
even as higher pressure, fast compartments off-gas. Not decompression outcome when used as a supplemental
all nitrogen passes directly back into the blood stream for decompression gas from both air and nitrox dives.
direct off-gassing by exhalation. Nitrogen may pass from
the higher pressure in one part of the body to the lower Decompression Sickness
pressure in an adjacent one (Hamilton, pers. com. 2000). Decompression sickness (DCS, also known as “the
Fast tissues not only on-gas quickly, they also off-gas bends”) is the result of inadequate decompression follow-
quickly. Decompression or safety stops taken near the sur- ing exposure to increased pressure. During a dive, the
face on a recreational-type dive are favorable. They allow diver’s body tissues absorb nitrogen from the breathing gas
some extra gas to be taken up by the slow tissues, but allow in proportion to the surrounding pressure. If the diver
more gas to be given off by the faster tissues, while holding ascends too quickly, the nitrogen may come out of solu-
at a pressure slightly greater than the surface (Hamilton, tion and form bubbles in the body’s fluids and tissues.
pers. com. 2000).
After ascending to the surface (or to a shallower level), WARNING
equilibration at the new level may require 24 hours or so, ALTHOUGH DECOMPRESSION SICKNESS MAY
even though the dive was far shorter in duration. Half-time OCCUR AS A RESULT OF VIOLATING ACCEPTED
gas elimination is the reason. It takes six half-times before a SAFE DIVING PRACTICES, IT CAN ALSO OCCUR
compartment can fill or empty. No matter how much gas a EVEN WHEN THE ACCEPTED GUIDELINES ARE
compartment starts with, it takes six half-times to empty. A BEING FOLLOWED PRECISELY.
60-minute compartment will half fill (or empty) with nitro-
gen in 60 minutes. After another 60 minutes, or two hours Bubbles form after many dives, often with no symp-
total, the compartment will be 3/4 or 75 percent full (or toms; these are called silent bubbles. It’s probably not
depleted). It will take another 60 minutes for the remaining true that asymptomatic bubbles form after every dive;
1/4 to move, making the compartment 7/8 or 87.5 percent however, they are not uncommon. Bubbles cause dam-
full (or empty) in three hours (1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 = 7/8). In age in several ways: they can block blood and lymph cir-
four hours, the compartment will be 93.8 percent exchanged culation, depriving vital areas of oxygen and waste
and in five hours it will be 97.0 percent. It takes six half- removal; extravascular bubbles can compress and stretch
times for any compartment to become about 99 percent full blood vessels and nerves creating pain, damage, and dis-
or empty. For practical purposes 99 percent is completely ability; as foreign invaders to the body, bubbles can pro-
saturated or de-saturated. This means a 60-minute compart- voke a cascade of defenses including blood coagulation,
ment is full or empty in six hours, since six half-times x 60 release of vasoactive substances from cells lining the
minutes = 360 minutes or six hours. A fast compartment blood vessels, and the body’s immune system reacts by
like a five-minute compartment fills or empties in only 30 coating the bubbles with lipoproteins, which then dena-
minutes (6 half-times x 5 minutes = 30 minutes). The slow ture and release circulating fat emboli. Bubbles do not
120-minute compartment fills and empties in 12 hours (6 pass from body tissues into veins, unless the veins are
half-times x 120 minutes = 720 minutes or 12 hours). already torn. Bubbles, even though tiny, are too big to

3-26 NOAA Diving Manual

pass directly through blood vessel walls. They may redis- WARNING
solve for passage through vessel walls then reform into THE MAJOR DETERMINANTS OF THE RISK OF
bubbles, but they do not drain into vessels intact. DECOMPRESSION SICKNESS ARE DEPTH, TIME AT
Although bubbles are a good explanation for many DEPTH, ASCENT RATE, AND MULTIPLE DIVES.
decompression problems, they may not be the sole pre-
cursor of decompression problems. Pressure may have Decompression sickness was formerly divided into Type
direct effects of its own on blood cells and other body I, Type II, and Type III. Type I DCS included skin itching or
areas (Bookspan 1995. marbling; brief, mild pain called “niggles,’’ which resolved
It is not easy to detect bubbles in tissue, but they can typically within ten minutes; joint pain; and lymphatic
be detected in circulating blood because they are moving. swelling. Extreme fatigue was sometimes grouped into Type
This is done with a device called a Doppler ultrasonic bub- I. Type II DCS was considered to be respiratory symptoms,
ble detector. Ultrasonic sound waves at too high a frequen- hypo-volemic shock, cardiopulmonary problems, and central
cy to be heard are used in various ways in medical or peripheral nervous system involvement. Type III grouped
diagnosis. Using Doppler electronics, only waves reflected DCS and arterial gas embolism together, also called decom-
from moving objects are detected. Bubbles can be “heard” pression illness (DCI). Arterial gas embolism is covered in
moving through the circulation on the way to the lungs. Section It is now more common to categorize decom-
Doppler bubble detectors have shown that normal and oth- pression sickness by area involved and severity of symptom.
erwise benign dives may create a few circulating bubbles in Limb Bends. A common symptom of DCS is pain, usu-
some divers. These are called “silent bubbles” because they ally in the elbow, shoulder, hip, or knee. DCS pain is often
do not cause overt symptoms. In fact, the bubbles detected described as dull, throbbing, and deep in the joint or tissue.
in the venous blood are “on their way out” and are not Pain onset is usually gradual and, in the early stages, the
likely to be involved in decompression sickness. Doppler diver may not recognize the pain as DCS. Pain slowly inten-
bubble detection in venous blood has not proven to be use- sifies, however, and, in severe cases, interferes with limb
ful for predicting DCS in a given diver, but dive profiles strength. In divers, upper limbs are affected about three
that cause a lot of bubbles also tend to cause a substantial times as often as lower limbs. In caisson workers, lower
number of DCS cases. limbs are more often affected.
Major determinants of risk of DCS are depth, time at Central Nervous System (CNS) Decompression Sickness
depth, ascent rate, and multiple dives. Individual variation may cause muscular weakness, numbness, “pins and nee-
is also a factor. The same depth and time profile, or dles,” paralysis, loss of sensation, loss of sphincter control,
“dose” of nitrogen, varies in effect on different people, just and, in extreme cases, death. Often, the symptoms do not
as the same dose of medication can vary in effect. Individ- follow typical nerve distribution and are unstable in position
ual factors have been explored but are not well under- and type during the early stages —different from the usual
stood, leaving these variables open to sometimes wild history of traumatic nerve injuries. Strange neurological
conjecture. Other factors that may predispose to DCS complaints or findings should not be dismissed as imaginary.
include fatigue, dehydration, smoking, alcohol consump- Cerebral Decompression Sickness is decompression sick-
tion, and carbon dioxide retention. Environmental factors ness occurring in the brain. It may produce almost any
include chilling at the end of a dive, heavy work, and the symptom: headache or visual disturbance, dizziness, tunnel
use of heated suits. vision, tinnitus (buzzing or ringing in the ears), partial deaf-
ness, confusion, disorientation, emotional, even psychotic
WARNING symptoms, paralysis, and unconsciousness. Cerebral DCS
DECOMPRESSION SICKNESS MAY OCCUR EVEN IF is more common than previously thought and may account
DECOMPRESSION TABLES OR COMPUTERS ARE for a portion of symptoms formerly attributed to spinal-cord
PROPERLY USED. ALTHOUGH IT IS UNCOMMON DCS. There is some discussion whether, and to what
FOR DCS TO OCCUR ON NO-DECOMPRESSION extent, long-term brain changes occur with repeated expo-
DIVES, IT CAN HAPPEN. sure to decompression stress, even decompression stress
that does not result in known decompression sickness.
There was early speculation, now dismissed, that birth Pulmonary DCS, or “Chokes” occurs in about two percent
control pills or menstruation might increase risk for of DCS cases. It is characterized by pain under the breastbone
women. Given the dearth of comparative DCS studies, (sternum) on inhalation, coughing that can become paroxys-
there is no substantive evidence that gender plays a role in mal, and severe respiratory distress that can end in death.
DCS (Bookspan 1995). Most medical experts today agree Skin Bends come in two forms: harmless simple itchy
that decompression sickness is the result of complex indi- skin after hyperbaric chamber exposure, or rashy marbling
vidual, not sex specific, factors. However, we still do not on the torso, called cutis marmorata, that may warn of seri-
have definitive answers and additional research is needed. ous decompression sickness.

Diving Physiology 3-27

Inner-Ear Decompression Sickness (vestibular decom- Prevention:
pression sickness, or labyrinthine decompression sickness) • Make safety stops (when conditions permit)
produces vertigo, ringing in the ears, nausea, or vomiting. • Ascend slowly (30 feet per minute)
Inner ear DCS is also called “staggers” because of difficul- • Use longer surface intervals
ty maintaining balance. Vestibular decompression sickness • Plan the dive well and have a backup plan
occurs more after deep helium-oxygen dives, particularly • Maintain good physical fitness, nutrition, and hydration
after switching to air in the later stages of decompression,
although it also has occurred in shallower air diving. Treatment:
It should be assumed that any diver with ear symptoms • If condition permits, perform quick neurological
during descent is experiencing inner ear barotrauma, includ- examination before recompression to ensure that
ing possible rupture of the oval and round windows; this case is pain only.
diver should not be recompressed. Recompression would again • Administer 100 percent oxygen, if possible, via tight-
subject the diver to unequal middle-ear pressures. Even fitting oronasal mask by demand/positive-pressure
without inner ear DCS or barotrauma, hearing impairment valve or non-rebreather mask at 15-lpm constant
can result from diving. Divers should have periodic audio- flow with the injured diver positioned supine or in
metric examinations. recover position.
First Aid. Secure the victim’s ABC (airway, breath- • Enter chamber, put diver on oxygen, pressurize
ing and circulation). Give 100 percent O 2 through a chamber to 60 fsw, and initiate recompression on
demand/positive-pressure type mask. If necessary, CPR appropriate treatment table.
should begin immediately. Make the victim comfortable • Reassess diver regularly.
and place him in a supine position, take notes and record
vital signs every fifteen minutes, continually monitor the Remember, Divers Alert Network (DAN) provides 24
victim’s level of consciousness, check for neurological hour emergency services to assist injured divers. If assis-
deficits, conduct an interview with both the diver and his tance is required, a DAN medical professional (hyperbaric-
buddy regarding the cause of the accident including the ally-trained physician or paramedic) can be reached at
diver’s profile within the last 24 hours and any pertinent (919) 684-8111 (24 hrs).
medical information, collect the patient’s diving equip-
ment and send it with the diver to the medical WARNING
facility/recompression chamber. Also, the diver should WHEN PLANNING DIVES, CHECK AVAILABILITY OF
only be given fluids by mouth if he is fully conscious, EMERGENCY OXYGEN/FIRST AID EQUIPMENT,
able to tolerate liquids, and intravenous (IV) therapy is CONTACT INFORMATION FOR LOCAL/REGIONAL
not available. The treatment of choice for re-hydration is EMERGENCY MEDICAL ASSISTANCE AND TREAT-
Ringers ® Solution administered by IV. Mild hypov- MENT FACILITY, AND DEVELOP AN EMERGENCY
olemia may be more common in diving than generally ASSISTANCE PLAN. ANY DELAY IN SYMPTOM
realized. DCS treatment is less effective if hypovolemia RECOGNITION, FIRST AID, AND TREATMENT CAN
is uncorrected. Transport without delay to a hyperbaric RESULT IN PERMANENT INJURY.
treatment facility. If transporting by air, ascend to an
altitude or equivalent pressure of no greater than 1,000 Treatment Tables
feet. Prompt recompression treatment increases the like- The primary treatment for decompression sickness is
lihood of a favorable outcome. Several treatments may recompression. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatment
be needed. Complete resolution of symptoms is not guar- tables include U.S.N. Treatment Tables 1, 2A, 3, 4, 5, 6,
anteed. 6A, 7, 8, and 9. These tables are shown in Appendix VI,
Do not treat by returning the diver to the water. In- along with Accident Treatment Flow Charts to be followed
water recompression can be hazardous and should not be when selecting a treatment strategy. The first step in any
attempted unless circumstances are extraordinary, for treatment involves diagnosing the condition properly. The
example, in isolated areas with no medical treatment Accident Treatment Flow Charts are diagnostic aids
options, and with specific equipment and rehearsed proce- designed to ensure the selection of an appropriate table.
dures in place for a system of surplus air, oxygen cylinders, Once a treatment table has been chosen, treatment is con-
added personnel, extra thermal protection, and land sup- ducted in accordance with the recompression procedures
port. specified for that table. If complications occur during or
after treatment, the procedures shown in the Accident
Treatment Flow Charts will help determine the appropriate
NOTE course of action.
Taking vital signs and/or interviewing the injured diver
must not interrupt oxygen breathing. NOAA requires Failures of Treatment
that an oxygen kit capable of ventilating an uncon- Four major complications may affect the recompres-
scious victim be on site during all diving operations. sion treatment of a patient. These are:

3-28 NOAA Diving Manual

• Worsening of the patient’s condition during treat- shoulder are most often affected, resulting in pain, spasm
ment around the joint, and finally, disabling arthritis. This con-
• Recurrence of the patient’s original symptoms or dition is called avascular necrosis of bone, caisson disease
development of new symptoms during treatment of bone, aseptic bone necrosis, or dysbaric bone necrosis.
• Recurrence of the patient’s original symptoms or The word “necrosis” means death of cells in an area. Bone
development of new symptoms after treatment necrosis, and its crippling effects, was first noted in 1888 in
• Failure of symptoms of decompression sickness or caisson workers (Kindwall 1972).
gas embolism to resolve despite all efforts using stan- Aseptic bone necrosis seems to involve several mecha-
dard treatment procedures nisms of damage: bubbles formed during decompression
obstruct blood vessels in the bone ends, platelets, fat, and
Alternative treatment procedures have been developed blood cells clump and obstruct blood flow, and blood ves-
and used successfully when standard treatment procedures sels themselves narrow in reaction to bubble damage. Bone
have failed. These special procedures may involve the use ends seem to be vulnerable because supersaturation in fatty
of saturation diving decompression schedules; cases of this bone marrow may generate fat emboli that occlude vessels,
type occur more frequently when a significant period of the surrounding bone tissue is not elastic with minimal
time has elapsed between the onset of symptoms and the margin for foreign body accumulation, and bone collects
initial recompression. Although it is important to know uranium 238 which might promote nucleation and subse-
that alternative procedures are available, it is equally quent gas bubble formation.
important to note that they have not been standardized. Bone necrosis seems to be a significant occupational
The use of an oxygen-nitrogen saturation therapy may be hazard of professional divers, caisson workers, and others
the only course of action when the situation involves a par- who spend great amounts of time compressing and decom-
alyzed diver already at depth whose condition is deteriorat- pressing at depth. There seems to be a definite relationship
ing. It is therefore essential that the advice of experts in the between length of time exposed to depth and bone lesions,
field of hyperbaric medicine, such as Divers Alert Network although cases have occurred with minimal exposure.
(DAN), be obtained early in the treatment process. Other factors may include cases of bends, and the adequa-
cy and promptness of recompression treatment. Counterdiffusion Bone necrosis is seldom seen in the elbows, wrists, or
Divers breathing one gas mixture while surrounded by ankles, and lesions that occur in the shafts of the long
another can develop serious skin lesions, nausea, vomiting, bones rarely cause symptoms or disability. Lesions that
and vestibular problems, even with no change in ambient occur in the head of the femur (long leg bone) or humerus
pressure. Problems can also occur after switching from breath- (upper arm bone) weaken bone underlying the
ing nitrogen-oxygen mix to breathing heliox while still under cartilage covering the joint, causing the joint surface to
pressure. Different gases have different diffusion rates. Heli- break down. Lesions often are bilateral, resulting in the
um, for example, diffuses faster than nitrogen; in other words, collapse of both femoral heads. Severe disability is the
helium moves into tissues from blood faster than nitrogen result. The only treatment known to have any degree of
moves out. Total inert gas partial pressure in the body increas- success is surgical repair or replacement of the joint.
es even though depth has not changed. This increased inert
gas partial pressure can result in bubble formation. The inner Patent Foramen Ovale
ear seems particularly susceptible, resulting in vestibular The foramen ovale is a flap-like opening in the septum
symptoms. Because two different gases can go in opposite wall which separates the right and left atria of the heart. The
directions in the body at the same ambient pressure, it is foramen ovale is normally open in a developing fetus,
termed isobaric counterdiffusion or isobaric counterexchange. because the fetus derives its oxygen and nutritional supply
Interestingly, cases of inner-ear DCS have occurred directly from its mother via the umbilical circulation. Upon
after diving heliox, then switching to air. Although it would birth, when the neonate’s lungs become functional the fora-
be expected that helium in tissues moves into blood faster men ovale functionally closes. Within a year after birth, the
than nitrogen in breathing air moves into tissues, which foramen ovale structurally closes. However, in an estimated
would reduce gas load and risk of DCS, it’s possible that 20 percent to 30 percent of the general population, the fora-
the middle ear (and other structures) fill with heliox during men ovale remains partially or fully open (patent “PFO”). In
the dive. During the switch to air during decompression, normal activities at sea level, a PFO does not induce any
partial pressure of helium in blood falls quickly, but the detrimental effects, and most people with PFOs are not
middle ear and other structures remain full of heliox, and aware of the anomaly. PFOs can be detected by means of a
the total inner ear inert-gas partial pressure rises. specialized echocardiogram, but this is an expensive and
complex test which is not recommended for the general pop- Aseptic Bone Necrosis (Dysbaric Osteonecrosis) ulation. However, PFO can cause severe problems for divers
Months to years after prolonged pressure exposure, (Bove 1997). In divers with a partially or fully open foramen
joint surfaces of the long-bone ends can die. The hip and ovale, performing a forceful valsalva maneuver may shift the

Diving Physiology 3-29

pressure gradient so as to open the foramen ovale and Many factors interact in susceptibility to chilling.
allow bubbles to shunt. If the bubbles accumulated during Water temperature and duration of exposure are obvious
a dive bypass the lungs and are shunted directly into the factors. Thermal protection by protective garments and the
diver’s systemic circulation, they can block cartoid or coro- body’s heat-producing and heat-saving abilities are covered
nary arteries, leading to arterial gas embolism. Depending in the following Section 3.4.3. Nitrogen narcosis reduces
on where these shunted bubbles lodge, they may also perception of cold and inhibits central neural structures
induce DCS. PFOs have been implicated in a number of involved in temperature regulation and heat production.
otherwise unexplained cases of decompression illness. Narcosis seems to be a large contributor to hypothermia in
compressed-air divers. Susceptibility to chilling increases Pregnancy and Diving with dehydration, fatigue, hunger, and illness. If a diver is
The consensus of diving medical experts agrees that out of shape, underweight, a smoker, or has been using
women should not dive during pregnancy. Given the limit- drugs or alcohol, he is at risk of chilling.
ed existing data, however, it is difficult to extract specific Gradual heat loss over a long period, such as multi-
ple dives in warm water over days, often will not cause
safety guidelines. This is because animal studies may not
shivering; however, the accumulated slow cooling can
accurately enough simulate human physiology, and anec-
result in impaired performance and fatigue similar to that
dotal diving surveys of pregnant female divers, whose data accompanying cold water chilling.
relies on subjective reporting, is often not scientifically accu- Terminate a dive and begin rewarming if any of the
rate. Additionally, because of the potential dire conse- following signs and symptoms are present:
quences, it is unethical and illegal to conduct experiments
which purposely induce decompression illness in pregnant Signs and Symptoms:
women and their fetuses. Nevertheless, from the existing • Loss of dexterity and grip strength
experiences of humans and animal studies, there are risks • Difficulty performing routine tasks, confusion, or
associated with diving during pregnancy, both for the moth- repeating tasks or procedures
er and her fetus (Bove 1997). • Intermittent shivering, even though routine tasks
can still be performed
3.4 HYPOTHERMIA/HYPERTHERMIA • Behavioral changes in a buddy that may indicate
The body maintains internal temperature well, despite existing or approaching hypothermia
functioning in a wide range of cold environments. The
body produces and loses heat several ways. By itself, the 3.4.2 First Aid for Hypothermia
heat loss process is not a problem as long as heat is Treatment:
restored. Otherwise chilling results. The best help that fellow divers can render at the scene
The body’s inner, or core, temperature is the familiar of the accident is:
37C/98.6°F. Skin temperature is usually much lower, close
to ambient temperature, and variable. It used to be popular to • ABC (airway, breathing, and circulation)
refer to any downward variation of body temperature as • Handle the victim extremely gently
hypothermia. However, core temperature normally falls sev- • Prevent further heat loss
eral degrees during sleep, for example, and is not hypother- • Activate the EMS system immediately
mia, and skin temperature drops dramatically with falling
ambient temperature to protect the core against hypothermia.
True clinical hypothermia is reduction of core temperature WARNING
(not skin temperature) below 35C/95°F. Hypothermia is not SEVERE HYPOTHERMIA IS A LIFE-THREATENING
the most common danger of cold. A diver can become inca- CONDITION AND NEEDS TO BE TREATED BY
pacitated by chilling without ever becoming hypothermic. TRAINED MEDICAL PERSONNEL.

3.4.1 Effects of Cold ABC. As in any medical emergency, protecting the

Chilling, even if not life-threatening in itself, increases ABC is the utmost priority. In addition to securing and
fatigue and reduces dexterity and sense of touch, making it monitoring the victim’s airway, breathing, and circula-
difficult to do useful work or to control diving equipment tion, it is also important to determine the victim’s tem-
such as weight belts and buoyancy compensators. Short- perature.
term memory and ability to think clearly may be seriously Treat the Victim Gently. A victim of severe hypother-
affected. Shivering further reduces coordination and may mia must be carefully removed from the water in as hori-
make it difficult to hold the mouthpiece. By the time shiv- zontal a position as possible to reduce the possibility of
ering becomes uncontrollable, oxygen consumption has hypotension (reduced blood pressure) and shock. The vic-
increased greatly. A diver may become helpless even tim should be removed from the cold environment, and
before reaching moderate hypothermia (see Table 3.8). sheltered. The victim should be kept lying down in a supine

3-30 NOAA Diving Manual

position, but not in direct contact with the cold ground or the field. Ideally, hypothermia victims should be stabilized
metal objects, and should always be handled very gently. in a hospital setting and carefully rewarmed under medical
Prevent Further Heat Loss. To prevent further heat loss, supervision.
rescuers should remove the victim’s wet clothes, and cover It is widely debated whether and by which method
him with blankets, particularly around the areas of highest even trained medics should attempt field rewarming,
heat loss — the head, neck, armpits, chest, and groin. because rapid or aggressive rewarming may precipitate a
Never attempt to rewarm a severely hypothermic diver in phenomenon known as “afterdrop,” in which the core tem-
perature continues to drop even when rewarming has
TABLE 3.8 begun. Afterdrop is believed to occur when cold blood in
Signs and Symptoms of the periphery circulates to the central core as vessels in the
Dropping Core Temperature skin dilate from the warm environment. The heart of a
severely hypothermic person is extremely vulnerable, and
afterdrop can induce ventricular fibrillation (uncontrolled,
Core irregular heart beats). Well-intentioned “remedies” such as
Temperature rigorous rubbing of the victim’s extremities, heat packs, hot
ºF C Symptoms drinks, hot baths, alcoholic beverages, even a cigarette,
therefore, can be lethal.
Below CHILLING Activate the EMS System. Divers should always have a
98.6 37 Cold sensations, skin vasocon- dive accident management plan, which includes informa-
striction, increased muscle ten- tion and equipment for contacting the local EMS and U.S.
sion, increased oxygen Coast Guard.
consumption Fortunately, divers rarely have to deal with severe
97 36 Sporadic shivering suppressed hypothermia. It is more likely that a diver will appear
by voluntary movements, gross cold or complain of being cold, will be shivering and/or
shivering in bouts, further have slightly impaired speech and dexterity. Other divers
increase in oxygen consumption, or the diving supervisor should remove this diver from
uncontrollable shivering
the water and wind immediately, remove wet clothing,
MODERATE HYPOTHERMIA and dry him off. As long as the diver is not shivering
95 35 Voluntary tolerance limit in labo- uncontrollably, is conscious, has a core temperature of
ratory experiments; mental con- 95ºF (35C) or more, and can swallow, he can be given
fusion, impairment of rational warm drinks that contain no alcohol or caffeine, and
thought, possible drowning,
decreased will to struggle should be wrapped in warm blankets or an exposure bag.
A chilled person can warm up by taking a warm bath or
93 34 Loss of memory, speech impair- shower.
ment, sensory function impair- Often a lay rescuer cannot distinguish between the var-
ment, motor performance
impairment ious categories of hypothermia, as signs and symptoms
may overlap. Good indicators are the diver’s level of con-
91 33 Hallucinations, delusions, partial sciousness, temperature, and intensity of shivering (or lack
loss of consciousness; in ship- of shivering). If unsure, a lay rescuer should refrain from
wrecks and survival history, 50% aggressive rewarming.
do not survive; shivering
90 32 Heart rhythm irregularities, COMPLETING DECOMPRESSION DIVES (OR DIVES
motor performance grossly
88 31 Shivering stopped, failure to rec-
ognize familiar people 3.4.3 Thermal Protection
A variety of diving suits are available, from standard
86 30 Muscles rigid, no response to
pain foam neoprene wet suits and dry suits to specially heated
84 29 Loss of consciousness NOTE
A wet suit does not stop heat loss, it merely slows it.
80 27 Ventricular fibrillation (ineffective
heartbeat), muscles flaccid
Diving in water temperature below 50ºF usually
79 26 Death requires a dry suit, which provides insulation by maintain-
ing a dry air space between the suit and the diver’s skin.

Diving Physiology 3-31

However, if flooded, the suit loses its insulating value and Warm Water Hypothermia. Divers also have to be wary
can become a severe thermal hazard. Protective suits cre- of hypothermia in warm environments. A phenomenon
ate an interesting complication. The body’s defense is called “warm water hypothermia” can occur even in the
reduced by the thermal barrier of the clothing. This com- tropics, especially during long dives and repetitive dives
plication, long known, is only just being recognized as an made without adequate rewarming between dives. In warm
important contributor to designing protective systems. water hypothermia, long slow cooling can take place in water
Body fat, ability to generate heat, ability to constrict temperatures as warm as 82º– 91ºF (27–33C). Although
blood vessels in the limbs to shunt and save heat for the warm water hypothermia is not as easily recognized as its
core, physical conditioning, and regular cold exposure are cold water counterpart, it definitely warrants attention. The
important contributors to cold tolerance and protection. physiological mechanisms of warm water hypothermia have
There is evidence that vasoconstriction, a heat-preser- been demonstrated in various medical studies, but they still
vation response, may be highly efficient in women. During are not clearly understood. The victim in this situation may
vasoconstriction, blood vessels in the shell narrow and not shiver, because the drop in core temperature may not be
restrict cutaneous blood flow, thereby decreasing convective rapid enough to activate the body’s thermoregulator defense
heat transfer from core to skin and subsequent loss to the mechanism. There may be a discrepancy between the input
environment and shunt the warm blood to the vital organs. of the receptors in the body’s shell and core, making the
Vasoconstriction, however, is only one of many factors diver’s skin feel warm while his core is cooling. Warm water
involved in thermal stress. Each diver will respond to the hypothermia can cause confusion, fatigue, apathy, incoordi-
cold water environment based on his own specific physio- nation, delayed reaction time, and sudden anxiety. These
logical makeup, level of training and conditioning, and the mental and physical disabilities, especially when concurrent
environmental factors in that particular situation. with any problems during the dive itself, can result in panic,
embolization, and drowning.
Prevention of Hypothermia:
• Check air and water temperature conditions before 3.4.5 Survival in Cold Water
the dive. When diving, wear thermal protection appropriate for
• Wear adequate thermal protection for the dive. the water temperature. Although exercise increases heat
• After a dive, get out of wet clothes. transfer to the water, it is not always the case that the only
• Move to a warm, protected area. outcome of swimming or other movement is net heat loss.
• Dry your hair. Heavy exercise can generate enough heat to match heat
• Wear a hat. loss in cold water. Because it is more common to chill in
• Drink warm liquids in between dives. very cold water even with exercise, the common recom-
• When considering adequate thermal protection, fac- mendation is to remain still, not swim in very cold water.
tor in the duration of decompression or safety stops. If ship abandonment is necessary, specific procedures
• Be adequately nourished, stay well hydrated, and increase chance of survival. Ship sinkings, even in worst
avoid alcohol and caffeine. cases, usually require, at minimum, 15 to 30 minutes,
• Repetitive dives should not be made until diver is affording valuable preparation time. Being prepared and
completely rewarmed. practiced makes best use of this time:
• For maximum cold water performance, divers should
swim in cold water on a regular basis to improve cold • Don a personal flotation device immediately.
tolerance. • Wear several layers of clothing because the trapped air
provides insulation. Even in the water, extra layers of
3.4.4 Thermal Stress Irrespective of Ambient clothing reduce the rate of body heat loss.
Temperature • Board a lifeboat or raft as soon as possible to avoid wet-
Hypothermia is not a problem only in frigid environ- ting insulating clothing and losing body heat.
ments and can occur irrespective of ambient temperature. • If it is necessary to enter the water, enter slowly to min-
Similarly, divers may also suffer extremes of hot and cold imize likelihood of increasing breathing rate, swallow-
thermal stress simultaneously during the same dive. There ing water, wetting the face and head, shock, and death.
have been documented cases of severe heat exhaustion in • Once in the water, orient to lifeboats, floating objects,
Arctic waters by commercial divers as a result of wearing etc. Button up, turn on signal lights immediately,
thick, occlusive dry suits, aggravated by dehydration from before manual dexterity is lost.
breathing dry compressed gas and perspiring from pro- • Keep head and neck out of the water. Protect head,
longed underwater swimming or heavy underwater work. neck, groin, and the sides of the chest—these are areas
Perspiration from excessive or from predive overheating of rapid heat loss.
can also cause the diver’s dry suit underwear to lose insula- • In extremely cold water, do not attempt to swim except
tion, thus predisposing him to hypothermia. to a nearby craft, fellow survivor, or floating object.

3-32 NOAA Diving Manual

• To conserve body heat, hold knees against chest, arms Heat exhaustion is a serious problem in which hypov-
around the side of chest. This is called the Heat Escape olemia (low blood volume) develops as a result of fluid loss.
Lessening Position (HELP). If others are nearby, hud- Heat exhaustion often develops in unacclimatized people
dle together and maintain maximum body contact. and is evidenced by profuse sweating, nausea, vomiting, a
• Keep a positive attitude. Will to live makes a differ- weak and rapid pulse, ataxia, low blood pressure,
ence. headache, dizziness, altered mental state, and general
weakness, and may require medical attention. Victims of
3.4.6 Overheating and Hyperthermia severe heat exhaustion should be given IV fluids, cooled
The body’s adaptation to overheating involves complex aggressively (e.g. with an ice bath), and possibly transported
integrations between the circulatory, neurologic, endocrine, to an emergency medical facility.
and exocrine functions. As it does in response to cold stress, Heat stroke, the most serious and complex heat disor-
when exposed to ambient heat, the body’s core temperature der, is a serious, life-threatening medical emergency. When
is regulated by the control center in the hypothalamus, hyperthermia has progressed to heat stroke, the body’s
which reacts to changes in the temperature of the circulating thermoregulatory mechanism, or capacity to cool itself by
blood and to impulses from thermal receptors in the body’s sweating, has failed and core temperatures can soar to
shell. Whenever core temperature rises above normal, the above 105ºF, leading to convulsions, delirium, and coma.
heat-promoting center in the hypothalamus is inhibited.Con- The skin becomes hot and dry. As the temperature spirals
currently, the heat-loss center in the brain is stimulated, upward, permanent brain damage may occur. If left
resulting in vasodilation. Through vasodilation, heat is dis- untreated, heat stroke can result in death due to circulatory
sipated from the shell through conduction, convection, and collapse and damage to the central nervous system. Vic-
radiation. If the external environment is so hot or the body tims of heat stroke must be stabilized, removed from the
is so overheated that heat cannot be lost by conduction, the hot environment immediately, cooled aggressively, put in
sudorific (sweating) mechanism is activated, allowing heat the shock position (legs slightly elevated), given IV fluid
to escape as the sweat evaporates. At high ambient temper- replacement, and be transported to an emergency medical
atures and during exercise, sweating provides the major facility.
physiologic defense against overheating. As sweating caus- Unlike chilling, overheating rarely results from
es the body to lose fluid and electrolytes, hormonal adjust- immersion in water. However, if water temperature is
ments begin. Vasopressin or antidiuretic hormone is high, around 86°F (29.4C), there is little or no difference
released by the pituitary gland and the hormone aldos- between the skin and water temperature; heat has no gra-
terone, which helps conserve sodium, is released from the dient to transfer to the water. Any exercise under such
adrenal cortex. conditions can end in overheating. Even in cooler water,
As core temperature continues to rise beyond the heavy exercise can generate more heat than is lost, and the
homeostatic range (100ºF/37.8C), the body’s natural heat diver can become warm. However, hyperthermia under
loss processes become ineffective, the hypothalamus is water has only recently been a subject of attention, and
depressed, biochemical reactions are impaired, and pro- primarily by military and commercial dive operations that
teins begin to degrade. At 106ºF (41C), most people go put divers in waters near the Equator, the Persian Gulf,
into convulsions. The outside limit for human life is 108ºF etc., or in hazardous warm environments (nuclear reactor
(43C). coolant pools) that require dry suits for protection.
To reduce the risk of overheating, drink water and
3.4.7 Types of Heat Stress juices liberally. Drink before thirsty. Avoid alcohol, coffee,
Heat syncope is the sudden loss of consciousness due to and other fluids which act as diuretics. Avoid drugs that
heat. It is usually experienced by individuals undergoing increase susceptibility to overheating. To acclimate to the
prolonged exposure to a hot environment to which they climatic conditions, gradually and regularly increase heat
are not acclimatized, or by individuals who have been exposure. Get into good physical condition — it will greatly
moving about in extreme heat while dressed in heavy gar- extend heat tolerance.
ments (i.e., tenders on long duty, fully dressed scuba
The prevention of hyperthermia in these specialized
dive situations involves a number of strategies, including
Heat cramps are a mild response to heat stress, and are
heat acclimatization, specialized equipment (i.e. suit-under-
manifested by muscle cramps. Cramping usually occurs in
the legs, arms, or abdomen, and may occur several hours suit or SUS), ice vests, pre-cooling, etc. Other suggestions
after exercise. If unaccompanied by serious complications, to add to those for preventing hyperthermia are:
heat cramps are best treated by rest, oral fluids, cooling
down, ice, and stretching and massaging the muscles. For • Dive buddy teams should suit up in sync, particular-
severe cramping, electrolyte replacement drinks or salt ly on a hot day, to minimize time spent above the
tablets may be indicated. water enclosed in a dry suit or wet suit. If divers

Diving Physiology 3-33

cannot suit up together, the first buddy to get • Does the drug interfere with consciousness or cause
dressed should wait in the water and cool off. alteration in decision-making ability?
• Wear a hat or visor, and use a high SPF broad- • Does the drug produce rebound phenomena?
spectrum sunscreen before and after diving.
• Ingest salt only if needed. Individuals who tend to Divers and their physicians have an obligation to com-
sweat copiously can use salt with meals, but should municate with each other. The clinician has the responsi-
avoid salt tablets, which can cause excessive body bility to explain the nature of treatment to the diver, and
salt levels. the diver has the responsibility to inform the physician that
diving exposure is anticipated, and what other drugs they
Protective dress required for diving in contaminated may be taking.
water can lead to overheating and/or hypothermia in warm
water situations (see Chapter 13, Polluted-Water Diving). 3.5.2 Smoking
Cigarette smoke contains poisons in gas and particu-
3.5 DRUGS AND DIVING late form, including hydrogen cyanide, nitrogen oxides,
The use of prescription and over-the-counter medica- and carbon monoxide. Smoking directly affects the respira-
tions while diving is a complex issue. Drug interaction is an tory and cardiovascular systems; it creates toxic effects
enormous topic; it is difficult to know all the variables, all throughout the body ranging from bone-cell destruction to
the possible drugs, and effects or changes caused by diving. cancerous changes. Additionally, smoking is addictive.
Individual variability, existing medical and physical condi- In the respiratory system, poisons deposit on the mucous
tions, and the mental and physical requirements of the spe- lining of the airways and lungs. Over time, they irritate the
cific dive are additional variables. air spaces, scar the lungs, and damage the cilia (thousands of
microscopic hairs lining the airways). Cilia normally move
3.5.1 Prescription Drugs mucus, and the pollutants that accumulate in the mucus, out
The hyperbaric environment of diving may change of the lungs to the throat. The mucus is usually swallowed or
how some drugs act in the body. Specific concerns include: blown out the nose. Smoking paralyzes the cilia; pollutants
stay in the lungs, increasing the smoker’s risk of bronchitis,
• How the body absorbs, metabolizes, and excretes the influenza, and other respiratory infections. The accumulation
drug. of secretions can make equalizing ear and sinus pressure diffi-
• Possible physical effects of the type of breathing gas, cult. Smoking eventually produces structural weakness in the
increased density of the gases, water temperature, lung, such as irreversibly enlarged and useless alveoli, leading
and other environmental factors. to a lung disease called emphysema.
• Side effects; on the surface, side effects, like drowsi- Smoking affects the cardiovascular system, accelerating
ness from antihistamines, may be acceptable. Under atherosclerotic changes in blood vessels, damaging heart tis-
water, as with the operation of machinery on land, sue, and limiting the oxygen-carrying ability of red blood
any impairment of cognitive function, neuromuscu- cells. Inhaled nicotine and carbon monoxide increase sticki-
lar strength, coordination, or integration of thought ness of blood platelets, causing clumping that can block
and action may lead to accidents. blood flow in the small vessels. It is speculated that increased
clumping increases susceptibility to decompression sickness.
There are several commonly used drugs that may Cigarette smoke is directly toxic to bone cells and the discs in
affect diver safety, performance, and the diver’s ability to the back, increasing risk of back pain and disc degeneration.
thermoregulate. These drugs include beta blockers, motion The dose of carbon monoxide a smoker receives from
sickness remedies, antihistamines, amphetamines, tranquil- smoking is toxic; it causes fatigue, headache, irritability,
izers, sedatives, hypertensive drugs, and decongestants. dizziness, and disturbed sleep, as well as changes in neuro-
Before diving, consult with your physician and ask the fol- logic reflexes, psychomotor test results, sensory discrimina-
lowing questions: tion, and electrocardiograms. Carbon monoxide
concentration inhaled from smoking one cigarette averages
• What is the underlying condition/illness/disease? Is 400 to 500 ppm, producing up to ten percent carboxyhe-
it relative or absolute contraindication to diving? moglobin (HbCO) (see Table 3.9). The level in non-smok-
• What is the half-life of the drug, and how long ers is generally 0.5 percent.
before or after use would it be prudent to avoid a The HbCO level in the blood of divers who smoke is
high-pressure environment? higher than it would be if they were exposed to 20 ppm
• What are any side effects that might increase risk of carbon monoxide for 12 hours (maximum carbon monox-
diving? ide level allowed in divers’ breathing air by NOAA).
• Does the drug interfere with physical performance or A heavy smoker takes approximately eight hours to
exercise tolerance? eliminate 75 percent of the carbon monoxide inhaled.

3-34 NOAA Diving Manual

TABLE 3.9 Even a moderate smoker will have about six to eight
Carboxyhemoglobin percent of his hemoglobin tied up with carbon monoxide,
as a Function of Smoking and therefore will have the oxygen-carrying capacity of the
blood reduced by that amount. Carbon monoxide has a 220
Median to 290-fold greater affinity for hemoglobin than oxygen does,
HbCO Expired and therefore readily combines with this vital component of
Smoking Habits Level, % CO, ppm the blood to produce carboxyhemoglobin. For every mole-
cule of carbon monoxide in the blood, the blood can carry
Light smoker one less molecule of oxygen. For heavy chronic smokers, the
(less than 1/2 pack/ day) 3.8 17.1 oxygen - carrying capacity of blood can be reduced by as
much as ten percent. Anyone with a history of unconscious-
Moderate smoker ness, or anyone exhibiting confusion or other neurological
(more than 1/2 pack/day signs, no matter how good they look upon admission, must
and less than 2 packs/day 5.9 27.5 be treated with hyperbaric oxygen (Kindwall 1999).

Heavy smoker 3.5.3 Illicit Drugs and Alcohol

(2 packs or more/ day) 6.9 32.4 Psychoactive agents impair cognitive and motor per-
formance, the very basis of their use.
Alcohol, barbiturates, and marijuana are commonly
The HbCO level, even for a light smoker diving eight abused nervous system depressants. Depressed motor
hours after the last cigarette (0.95%), is almost twice that function is hazardous under water. Risk of cold injury and
of a non-smoker (0.50%). The carboxyhemoglobin level nitrogen narcosis increases, and, as blood glucose falls,
of a person who does not smoke, but is exposed to the which is another side effect of these drugs, weakness and
smoke of others (passive smoke), can rise to five percent confusion increase. Because of its diuretic action, alcohol
after exposure. can contribute to dehydration, particularly in the tropics.
Epidemiologists have discovered that smoking is Drugs take time to leave the system, meaning their haz-
implicated not only in fatal lung disorders and coronary ards may persist even days after taking them.
artery disease, but also in strokes, bladder cancer, cervi- Cocaine and the many other commonly abused central
cal cancer, hearing deficits, and is a serious risk factor nervous system stimulants render a diver incapable of
during pregnancy. responding properly to life-threatening emergencies. These
Each cubic centimeter of tobacco smoke contains drugs are often combined with alcohol or marijuana, thus
over five million particles, including chemicals which are compounding problems. Cocaine increases the likelihood of
so dangerous that they are on the Environmental Protec- an oxygen toxicity seizure; it can trigger abnormal heart beats,
tion Agency’s list of substances which are illegal to dis- sudden heart attack, even in a young person, and heart illness.
pose of in the environment. According to the American Other Important Facts About Alcohol. Alcohol interferes
Lung Association, “cigarette smoke in its gaseous and with the body’s ability to replenish the energy the body
particulate phases contains 4,700 compounds, including needs after diving, and it causes a dramatic drop in blood-
43 known carcinogens, which can damage tissues and glucose level, leading to hypoglycemia which can cause
cause disease.” weakness, confusion, irritability, interference with temper-
For divers, the respiratory deficits caused by smok- ature maintenance, and fainting. According to the Ameri-
ing can be especially dangerous if the diving activities can College of Sports Medicine, because alcohol is a
involve deep exposures which create breathing resis- depressant of the central nervous system, even a small
tance, thermal stress, swimming against strong currents amount can disrupt a wide variety of psychomotor skills,
or a number of factors which necessitate optimal aerobic reaction time, hand-eye coordination, alertness, accuracy,
capacity and increased supply of oxygen. Intuitively, it balance, and complex coordination. Because of these detri-
seems likely that carboxyhemoglobin may not be able to ments, alcohol is banned by various federations within the
carry as much CO2 as normal hemoglobin does. If so, International Olympic Committee. Diving under these cir-
carbon dioxide toxicity and decompression sickness cumstances can be even more hazardous.
(CO2 is believed to be a predisposing factor to DCS) can- Alcohol by itself causes acutely diminished mental
not be ruled out. There is yet another hazard associated and physical faculties; alcohol consumption combined
with carbon monoxide, one which pathologists do not with breathing compressed gas may accelerate and multi-
yet fully understand. Long term exposure to CO results ply the effects of nitrogen narcosis.
in the CO binding to the cellular enzyme cytochrome Alcohol can enhance exercise fatigue by increasing
oxidase, an enzyme necessary for the transfer of oxygen lactic acid production, which will make even non-stressful
from the blood to the inside of the cells. swimming and diving much more difficult.

Diving Physiology 3-35

The decreased strength, power, local muscular, and dehydrated, the individual experiences dizziness,
overall cardiovascular endurance caused by alcohol may headache, and a “hangover” feeling.
become life-threatening detriments in an emergency diving For divers, dehydration resulting from alcohol con-
situation. For a diver who drinks and dives, an unexpected sumption poses a number of problems. Dehydration cre-
problem (i.e., having to swim a great distance on the sur- ates hypovolemia (thicker blood volume), resulting in
face, struggling against a strong current, rescuing another slower off-gassing of nitrogen. This makes alcohol a
diver, etc.) may intensify into a diving accident or fatality. major risk factor in decompression sickness, particularly
Alcohol is considered a factor in many drownings bends with serious neurological deficits. According to
and diving accidents. In analysis of large numbers of DAN, there appears to be a relationship between an
drownings in the U.S. and Australia, about 80 percent of increased number of drinks and the severity of decom-
the adult victims had elevated blood alcohol levels pression illness. In a study on alcohol and bends, it was
(BAL). According to DAN Accident Report data, reported that alcohol can reduce the surface tension, a
approximately one-third of the reported diving accident force which limits bubble growth, and therefore may
victims had consumed alcohol within 12 hours before or encourage bubble formation (Edmonds, Lowry, and Pen-
after diving. Tests have also shown that some individuals nefather 1992). Additionally, the vasodilation of capillar-
still have a BAL above the legal limit for driving 24 hours ies caused by alcohol may allow nitrogen to escape too
after their last drink (Plueckhahn 1984). There are some rapidly, increasing chances of decompression sickness
divers, therefore, who ideally should refrain from drink- (DCS) even more.
ing alcohol 24 hours before and after a dive. Alcohol also predisposes a diver to thermal stress. As
It’s important to drink a lot of fluids before and alcohol dilates the peripheral blood vessels, circulation is
after diving, but those fluids should be water and fruit diverted to the skin and heat escapes. In cold climates, this
juices, not alcoholic beverages. Alcohol is a diuretic, impairment in thermoregulation may deteriorate into a
i.e., a substance that causes greater loss of fluids than it life-threatening state of hypothermia.
contains. Not only fluid, but essential minerals and One of the first signs of hypothermia is shivering,
electrolytes are lost through diuresis (urination). Alco- which concurrently promotes a faster rate of nitrogen elim-
hol inhibits the brain hormone ADH (Antidiuretic Hor- ination. In hot environments, alcohol can increase sweat-
mone), creating a vicious cycle whereby the more ing, which leads to further dehydration, and precipitates
alcohol a person drinks, the more he urinates, which hyperthermia, a state of elevated body core temperature,
leads to further dehydration. When the brain becomes which can progress to heat stroke.

3-36 NOAA Diving Manual

The NOAA Diving Manual was prepared jointly by the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce and Best
Publishing Company.

This CD-ROM product is produced and distributed by the National Technical Information
Service (NTIS), U.S. Department of Commerce.
Visit our Web site at www.ntis.gov.
Air Diving and
Decompression 4

4.0 GENERAL....................................................4- 1 4.4.3 Making Mandatory

4.1 DECOMPRESSION TABLE Decompression Stops................................4-20
DEVELOPMENT ...........................................4- 1 4.4.4 Omitted Decompression ............................4-23
4.1.1 Table Computation Prediction ....................4- 1 4.4.4. 1 Omitted Decompression 1..............4-23
4.1.2 Computing Decompression Tables ...............4- 1 4.4.4. 2 Omitted Decompression 2..............4-23
4.1.3 Reliability of Tables .................................4- 2 4.4.4. 3 Use of Oxygen
4.1.4 Dive Planning Software ............................4- 2 During Decompression..................4-23
TO MAKE SINGLE DIVES ..............................4- 2 IN ALTITUDE...............................................4-23
4.2.1 Single Versus Repetitive Dives....................4- 2 4.5.1 Diving at Altitude....................................4-23
4.2.2 Planning Single Dives...............................4- 3 4.5.1. 1 Altitude Correction Procedure ........4-24
4.3 USING THE U.S. NAVY DIVE TABLES 4.5.1. 2 Correction of Depth of Dive ...........4-24
TO MAKE REPETITIVE DIVES........................4- 5 4.5.1. 3 Correction for Decompression
4.3. 1 Recording Repetitive Dive Stop Depths ...............................4-24
Data ...................................................4- 5 4.5.1. 4 Need for Correction .....................4-24
4.3. 2 Accounting for 4.5.1. 5 Depth Measurement at Altitude ......4-24
Residual Nitrogen ..................................4- 6 4.5.1. 6 Correction of Depth Gauges ...........4-24
4.3. 3 Finding Repetitive Group 4.5.1. 7 Hypoxia During Altitude Diving .....4-26
Designations Following Single, 4.5.1. 8 Altitude Sickness .........................4-26
No-Decompression Dives .........................4- 7 4.5.1. 9 Breathing Gases ..........................4-26
4.3. 4 Determining a Repetitive Group Equilibration at Altitude................4-26
Designation Following a Repetitive Dives..........................4-27
Surface Interval .....................................4- 8 Ascent to Altitude After
4.3. 5 Determining Adjusted No- Diving/Flying After Diving ...........4-27
Decompression Limits for 4.6 BUILDING ADDITIONAL
Repetitive Dives ....................................4- 9 SAFETY FACTORS INTO
4.3. 6 Determining Repetitive Group DIVE TABLE USAGE .....................................4-29
Designations Following 4.6.1 Remaining Well Within No-
Repetitive Dives ....................................4-12 Decompression and Other
4.3. 7 Why Repetitive Group Limits...................................................4-29
Designations Are Important......................4-14 4.6.2 Making Slow Ascents
4.3. 8 Determining the Minimum and Safety Stops ......................................4-29
Allowable Surface Interval 4.6.3 Taking Advantage of the Dive
Between Dives.......................................4-14 Table’s Inherent Margin of Safety
4.3. 9 Exceptions to Normal Repetitive on Multi-Level Dives ...............................4-29
Dive Planning .......................................4-18 Reverse Profile Dives......................4-29
4.3.10 Dealing With Surface Intervals 4.6.4 Following Recommendations
of Less Than Ten Minutes ........................4-18 Concerning Cold and
4.4 USING THE U.S. NAVY DIVE TABLES TO Arduous Dives ........................................4-30
MAKE STAGED DECOMPRESSION DIVES.......4-19 4.6.5 Managing Additional Risk Factors That May
4.4.1 What Is Decompression? ...........................4-19 Contribute to Decompression Sickness..........4-30
4.4.2 Decompression Diving 4.7 NOAA NO-DECOMPRESSION DIVE CHARTS...4-30
Considerations........................................4-19 4.7.1 General.................................................4-30
Air Diving and
Decompression 4
4.0 GENERAL physiologist J.S. Haldane developed a hypothetical
As explained in previous sections concerning the method for tracking gas in the body and showed how to
physics and physiology of diving, body tissues absorb develop decompression profiles or “tables.” At the outset,
additional nitrogen from the air breathed during dives it is important to realize that this “model” proposed by
and release this excess nitrogen during ascent. After sur- Haldane, and later modified by others, is hypothetical. It
facing, body tissue continues to release excess nitrogen is not what really happens in the body, nor was it intended
until the level of nitrogen dissolved in the tissue returns to to be; but, it does afford a method of moving from yester-
normal. day’s dive experience to tomorrow’s new decompression
By keeping the amount of nitrogen being absorbed and tables. This was the first such model; many others have
released within acceptable limits, the risk of a serious div- followed, and many are offshoots of the Haldane method.
ing malady known as decompression sickness, or DCS, is A well-developed computational method similar to Hal-
reduced. Divers have many tools at their disposal to help dane’s was published by the late Swiss cardiologist, Prof.
plan and make dives in which the risk of DCS remains A.A. Bühlmann, and it has been widely used by others.
within acceptable levels. These tools include dive tables At today’s state of knowledge, the only sound criteri-
and dive computers. on for the preparation of useful decompression tables is
Even when divers use computers as their primary dive empirical experience. As models improve, prediction
planning tool, it is important to have a working knowledge capability will continue to improve, but the judgment as
of dive tables. Dive tables can provide an important back- to whether a model is right is how well it actually works,
up in case of computer failure or operator error. They can not how sophisticated the math may be.
even help divers pre-plan a series of two or more dives—
which is something that is generally beyond the capabilities 4.1.2 Computing Decompression Tables
of dive computers. Experience has shown that certain profiles, and pre-
There is a wide variety of dive tables available, includ- sumably the hypothetical gas loadings produced by such
ing versions by the U.S. Navy, other foreign governments, profiles, have or have not produced DCS. With enough
and recreational training organizations. For military and experience (data) it is possible to assign limits to various
selected scientific and commercial divers in the United ascents from depth. With these tools, table developers
States, the standard dive tables are those appearing in the calculate suitably slow ascent rates for a variety of expo-
U.S. Navy Diving Manual. A complete set of the U.S. Navy sure profiles; the results of these calculations are decom-
Dive Tables can be found in Appendix IV. pression tables.
This section of the NOAA Diving Manual is devoted to The limits just mentioned are in terms of the gas
the proper use of U.S. Navy Dive Tables for relatively loading that can be tolerated in each compartment at each
shallow, scientific and research diving. A working knowl- depth during ascent. Ascent limits are normally consid-
edge of U.S. Navy dive table usage will also make it easi- ered in 10 fsw or 3 msw increments, and are known as
er to understand and use other dive tables as well. “M-values” (where M stands for “maximum”), the maxi-
mum permitted gas loading at that depth in that compart-
4.1 DECOMPRESSION TABLE ment. To calculate a decompression table, the developer
DEVELOPMENT needs a set of M-values, usually determined from experi-
4.1.1 Table Computation Prediction ence. The calculated gas loadings in each compartment
The most common method used for predicting if a are compared with the M-values, and ascent is adjusted to
profile (of pressure and gas as functions of time) will cause keep the loadings below the limits. The diver’s ascent is
DCS dates back to around the turn of the century, when halted, with “stops” at specified depths, to wait until the

hypothetical gas loadings have “decayed” to below the specialists were qualified to produce decompression
limits for that depth; the diver then ascends to the next tables, and that all tables needed extensive testing before
stop and the process is repeated. operational use.
The J.S. Haldane decompression model goes back Several entrepreneurs have prepared and distributed
nearly a century, but by using it with continuously updat- computer programs that can be used to generate decom-
ed experience, it can be used to produce reliable decom- pression tables. This has been possible because of publica-
pression tables. It is not quite correct to consider this a tions by Prof. Bühlmann that outline tested and accepted
‘theory” of how the human body works. Rather, it is a algorithms for computing tables. Most programs available
computational tool that allows prediction of tomorrow’s are based, at least fundamentally, on Prof. Bühlmann’s
dive from yesterday’s experience. The A.A. Bühlmann algorithms.
model uses the same equations for on-gassing, but calcu- The different programs manage the algorithm in dif-
lates the ascent limits in a different way; it, too, is firmly ferent ways, especially with regard to introducing extra
based on experience. conservatism into the computations. These differences
make it difficult to compare programs and to really
4.1.3 Reliability of Tables understand the affects of the conservatism. As with dive
Virtually any exposure to pressure imposes an obliga- computers, many of these programs allow oxygen expo-
tion for decompression, and even when it is done correct- sure to be tracked and signals the user when limits are
ly it will create some probability of symptoms of a decom- exceeded. It is up to the user to know the meaning of the
pression disorder. For this reason, it is preferable not to oxygen calculations and the limits used.
use the word “safe” to describe a decompression proce- The warning remains, however; producing proper
dure. In the sense that “safe” means “an acceptable level decompression tables in a safe manner requires a substan-
of risk” the word may be applicable, but too many people tial knowledge of decompression practice. The user
perceive that as meaning no risk at all, which is not the should have a firm idea of what to expect, and should be
case. Satisfactory decompression tables can be referred to able to recognize if things are not right. The NOAA Div-
as being “reliable.” The NOAA and U.S. Navy Dive ing Program has used one or more of these computer pro-
Tables in this manual are considered reliable. grams to produce custom decompression tables required
The limits of a decompression procedure do not rep- for special diving operations beyond the scope of the U.S.
resent a hard line between developing or not developing Navy Dive Tables.
decompression sickness symptoms, but rather a fuzzy
boundary of “acceptable risk.” Accordingly, one should
always consider DCS as a possibility. Be prepared for it
psychologically and have a plan for dealing with it. TABLES TO MAKE SINGLE DIVES
There is a wide variation in the physical makeup of The simplest and easiest application of the information
divers, and part of this variation is in susceptibility to the U.S. Navy Dive Tables provide comes when you make
decompression disorders. There are differences among what are known as single dives.
individuals, and in one person at different times. There
are also environmental effects. Immersion, exercise, and 4.2.1 Single Versus Repetitive Dives
warmth increase gas uptake and elimination; cold and Dives will be either single or repetitive dives:
dehydration reduce them. Depending on where in the
dive these conditions occur, they may be either beneficial • A single dive is any dive made more than 12 hours
or detrimental to the decompression. following a previous dive.
Because of the variations, a given schedule is not • A repetitive dive is any dive made less than 12 hours
“safe” or “unsafe;” rather, DCS has a certain probability after surfacing from a prior dive.
of occurring, therefore, decompression data is analyzed
statistically. The U.S. Navy and other decompression Why this distinction? Normally, body tissue is saturat-
researchers have developed means of analyzing past dives ed with nitrogen at a partial pressure equal to that of the
using statistics, one form of which is called “maximum nitrogen found in atmospheric air. During a dive, body tis-
likelihood.” With it, the probability of DCS can be pre- sues absorb additional nitrogen from the air breathed under
dicted from a given profile by comparing it with a collec- pressure.
tion of past dives of the same general type. As Figure 4.1 shows, after surfacing from a dive, some
of this excess nitrogen will remain in body tissues for a
4.1.4 Dive Planning Software period of time. The amount of excess nitrogen present will
In recent years there has been a remarkable develop- vary, depending on factors such as the depth and duration
ment in the field of decompression technology; the of the dive.
development and marketing of commercially available During time spent on the surface between dives, the
computer programs for generating decompression tables. amount of excess nitrogen present in tissue will decrease.
For decades it has been felt that only decompression As Figure 4.2 shows, no matter how much excess nitrogen

4-2 NOAA Diving Manual



Above NDL

0.79 Normal


Risk of Exceeding U.S. Navy No-Decompression
12 HOURS Limits

Excess Nitrogen Following Dive
Depth No-Decompression Group Designation Letter
(feet/meters) Limits (min) A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O

unlimited 797
60 120
35 70
25 50
210 300
110 160
75 100
225 350 452
135 180 240 325 390 917
D I S S O LV E D I N 25
20 35
15 30
55 75
45 60
100 125 160 195 245 315 361 540
75 95 120 145 170 205 250 310
* 595
344 405
35 10.7 310 5 15 25 40 50 60 80 100 120 140 160 190 220 270 310
40 12.2 200 5 15 25 30 40 50 70 80 100 110 130 150 170 200
50 15.2 100 10 15 25 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
60 18.2 60 10 15 20 25 30 40 50 55 60
70 21.3 50 5 10 15 20 30 35 40 45 50
80 24.4 40 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40
90 27.4 30 5 10 12 15 20 25 30
100 30.5 25 5 7 10 15 20 22 25
110 33.5 20 5 10 13 15 20
120 36.6 15 5 10 12 15
130 39.6 10 5 8 10
Normal 140
7 10

160 48.8 5 5
170 51.8 5 5
Note: See Appendix IV for Full Size Tables
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 FIGURE 4.4
N U M B E R O F H O U R S F O L L OW I N G D I V E U.S. Navy No-Decompression Limits

Nitrogen Off-Gases in Approximately 12 Hours • On repetitive dives, it is assumed that the excess or
residual nitrogen remaining in body tissues follow-
ing previous dives is significant and must be
is present following a dive, the vast majority of this nitro- accounted for to determine if decompression is
gen will off-gas within 12 hours of surfacing. required.
What this means is that, if a dive is made more than 12
hours after surfacing from a previous one, there is no need to 4.2.2 Planning Single Dives
worry about residual excess nitrogen. If, on the other hand, a Planning single dives is comparatively easy. Simply
dive is made less than 12 hours after surfacing from a previ- make certain that the Actual Bottom Time (ABT) of the
ous dive, the body must account for the excess nitrogen dive remains well within the U.S. Navy’s No-Decompres-
remaining in tissue. If this is not done, as Figure 4.3 shows, sion Limits.
there is the risk of exceeding the U.S. Navy Dive Tables’ No- As Figure 4.4 shows, the No-Decompression Limits
Decompression Limits (NDLs). are listed in the third column of Table 3 of the U.S. Navy
Dive Tables.
In summary: To use the No-Decompression Limits, the diver must
• On single no-decompression dives, it is assumed that understand the U.S. Navy table definitions for (Actual)
any excess nitrogen remaining in body tissues fol- Bottom Time and Depth, as well as the term “dive
lowing the dive is not significant. schedule.”

Air Diving and Decompression 4-3

Can they make this dive while remaining within the No-
Decompression Limits?
To find the answer:
Time • Insofar as 93 fsw is a depth value that does not

appear on Table 3, the divers must round this num-

ber to the next greater depth and consider the maxi-
mum depth of their dive to be 100 fsw.
• As Figure 4.6 shows, by consulting Table 3, the
divers discover that the NDL for 100 fsw is 25

Time Thus, it appears that, so long as they do not exceed a

dive schedule of 100 fsw for 25 minutes, the divers can
make this single dive each day, throughout the project,
Actual Bottom Time (ABT)
while remaining well within the U.S. Navy Dive Table No-
Decompression Limits.

Practice Problem 1:
In summary: This is a practice problem that will illustrate how to
• As Figure 4.5 shows, Actual Bottom Time starts find the applicable single-dive No-Decompression Limits
when the diver leaves the surface and ends when the on the U.S. Navy Dive Tables:
diver begins a direct, uninterrupted ascent to the sur-
face at a rate of no more than 30 feet per minute.
(Note: The U.S. Navy Dive Tables allow for momen-
tary variations in ascent rate of plus or minus 10 feet Depth No-Decompression
per minute.)
• Depth is defined as the maximum depth reached
(feet/meters) Limits (min)
during any point during the dive—even if divers
remain at this depth only momentarily. 10 3.0 unlimited
• The term “dive schedule” refers to the combination 15 4.6 unlimited
of Actual Bottom Time and Depth, as they appear 20 6.1 unlimited
on the U.S. Navy Dive Tables.
25 7.6 595
Depths on the U.S. Navy Dive Tables appear in ten- 30 9.1 405
foot/3.1-meter increments. It is unusual for divers to reach 35 10.7 310
a maximum depth that is a precise multiple of ten feet. 40 12.2 200
Therefore, round the actual depth to the next greater depth 50 15.2 100
increment (making a 63-fsw dive a 70-fsw dive, as far as 60 18.2 60
the U.S. Navy Dive Tables are concerned). When using
the U.S. Navy Dive Tables, consistently round depth and 70 21.3 50
time values in the more conservative direction, going to the 80 24.4 40
next deeper depth or next greater time. Doing so increases 90 27.4 30
the margin of safety. 100 30.5 25
110 33.5 20
Example 1:
120 36.6 15
Here is an example that better illustrates how to find
the applicable U.S. Navy No-Decompression Limits for a
130 39.6 10
particular dive: 140 42.7 10
150 45.7 5
Dive team #1 is engaged in a water-sampling study.
PART 160 48.8 5
Their task is to replace the charcoal trap at a sampling 170 51.8 5
station on the bottom of a lake once every day. The sam- OF
pling station is at an equivalent saltwater depth of 93 TABLE 3
180 54.8 5
feet. It takes a maximum of 15 minutes for the divers to 190 59.9 5
descend, locate the sampling station, collect the old trap FIGURE 4.6
and replace it with a new one, then begin their ascent. No-Decompression Limit (NDL) for 100 fsw/30.5 msw

4-4 NOAA Diving Manual

End of Ascent/Start Start of Descent/End
Depth No-Decompression Start of Descent of Surface Interval of Surface Interval

(feet/meters) Limits (min) Surface Interval

Surface Interval Time (SIT)
Time (SIT)

10 3.0 unlimited Schedule Schedule

15 4.6 unlimited Used
20 6.1 unlimited ____/____ ____/____
25 7.6 595
30 9.1 405
Actual Bottom Time Actual Bottom Time
35 10.7 310 Actual Bottom Time (ABT)
Actual Bottom Time (ABT)

40 12.2 200 Start of Ascent

Ascent Time Ascent
Start of Ascent Time
50 15.2 100
60 18.2 60 FIGURE 4.8
70 21.3 50 Diagram of Repetitive Dive Data
80 24.4 40
90 27.4 30
100 30.5 25
110 33.5 20 Second, you will need dive table information that
120 36.6 15 accounts for the residual nitrogen present in your
body from previous dives, and how that nitrogen
130 39.6 10
will impact subsequent dives.
140 42.7 10
150 45.7 5 4.3.1 Recording Repetitive Dive Data
160 48.8 5
PART Divers have at their disposal a number of worksheets,
170 51.8 5 logs, and other tools for planning and recording repetitive
OF 180 54.8 5 dive data. Among the simplest and most frequently used
TABLE 3 190 59.9 5 means of doing so is a simple, hand-drawn diagram, simi-
lar to the one appearing in Figure 4.8.
This particular approach to recording repetitive dive
Answer to Practice Problem 1
data has several advantages, including:

• All that is needed to create such a diagram is a pen

Your dive team must recover a sampling device located
or pencil, and a piece of paper.
in a bay whose depth, at high tide, does not exceed 53
• The design is highly intuitive, providing a visual rep-
fsw. At this depth, how long do you have to search for
resentation of elements such as descents, bottom
and recover this device, without exceeding the U.S.
times, ascents and surface intervals—one that divers
Navy No-Decompression Limits?
have little difficulty understanding.
For exposures of 51 to 60 fsw, the U.S. Navy No-Decom-
pression limit is 60 minutes (see Figure 4.7).
U S Navy Dive Table 3
Unlimited/No-Decompression Limits and Repetitive Group
4.3 USING THE U.S. NAVY DIVE Designation Table for Unlimited/No-Decompression Air Dives–1999


(feet/meters) Limits (min) A B C D E F
Group Designation Letter
Using the U.S. Navy Dive Tables to plan and make 10 3.0 unlimited 60 120 210 300 797
repetitive dives is a somewhat more complex process 15 4.6 unlimited
35 70 110 160 *
225 350 452
20 6.1 25 50 75 100 135 180 240 325 390 917
than for single dives. Nevertheless, with practice, you 25
20 35
15 30
55 75
45 60
100 125 160 195 245 315 361 540
75 95 120 145 170 205 250 310
* 595
344 405
will find that this process is both easy to understand and 35
5 15
5 15
25 40
25 30
50 60 80 100 120 140 160 190
40 50 70 80 100 110 130 150
220 270 310
170 200
easy to follow. To do so, you will need two things: 50
15 25
15 20
30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
25 30 40 50 55 60
70 21.3 50 5 10 15 20 30 35 40 45 50
80 24.4 40 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40
First, because this process involves more steps and 90
10 12
7 10
15 20 25 30
15 20 22 25
more data than most divers can easily commit to 110
5 10
5 10
13 15 20
12 15
memory, you will need a simple, written means of 130 39 6 10 5 8 10

recording information pertaining to the dives you FIGURE 4.9

plan and make. Repetitive Group Designation Letters

Air Diving and Decompression 4-5

Locate the diver's repetitive group designation from his previous dive along the diagonal line above the table. A 0:10
Read horizontally to the interval in which the diver's surface interval lies. 12:00*
B 0:10 3:21
Next read vertically downward to the new repetitive group designation. Continue downward in this 3:20 12:00*
same column to the row which represents the depth of the repetitive dive. The time given at C 0:10 1:40 4:50
the intersection is residual nitrogen time, in minutes, to be applied to the repetitive dive. 1:39 4:49 12:00*
D 0:10 1:10 2:39 5:49
* Dives following surface intervals of more than 12 hours are not repetitive 1:09 2:38 5:48 12:00*
dives. Use actual bottom times in the Standard Air Decompression E 0:10 0:55 1:58 3:25 6:35
Tables to compute decompression for such dives. 0:54 1:57 3:24 6:34 12:00*
F 0:10 0:46 1:30 2:29 3:58 7:06
** If no Residual Nitrogen Time is given, then the repetitive 0:45 1:29 2:28 3:57 7:05 12:00*
group does not change. al 0:10 0:41 1:16 2:00 2:59 4:26 7:36
erv G
0:40 1:15 1:59 2:58 4:25 7:35 12:00*
e int
0:10 0:37 1:07 1:42 2:24 3:21 4:50 8:00
rfac H
0:36 1:06 1:41 2:23 3:20 4:49 7:59 12:00*
e su
0:10 0:34 1:00 1:30 2:03 2:45 3:44 5:13 8:22
of th I
2:44 3:43 5:12 8:21 12:00*
0:33 0:59 1:29 2:02
ning 0:10 0:32 0:55 1:20 1:48 2:21 3:05 4:03 5:41 8:51
gin J
be 0:31 0:54 1:19 1:47 2:20 3:04 4:02 5:40 8:50 12:00*
t the K 0:10 0:29 0:50 1:12 1:36 2:04 2:39 3:22 4:20 5:49 8:59
upa 0:28 0:49 1:11 1:35 2:03 2:38 3:21 4:19 5:48 8:58 12:00*
gro L 0:10 0:27 0:46 1:05 1:26 1:50 2:20 2:54 3:37 4:36 6:03 9:13
ve 0:26 0:45 1:04 1:25 1:49 2:19 2:53 3:36 4:35 6:02 9:12 12:00
etiti *
ep M 0:10 0:26 0:43 1:00 1:19 1:40 2:06 2:35 3:09 3:53 4:50 6:19 9:29
R 0:25 0:42 0:59 1:18 1:39 2:05 2:34 3:08 3:52 4:49 6:18 9:28 12:00*
0:10 0:25 0:40 0:55 1:12 1:31 1:54 2:19 2:48 3:23 4:05 5:04 6:33 9:44
0:24 0:39 0:54 1:11 1:30 1:53 2:18 2:47 3:22 4:04 5:03 6:32 9:43 12:00*
0:10 0:24 0:37 0:52 1:08 1:25 1:44 2:05 2:30 3:00 3:34 4:18 5:17 6:45 9:55
0:23 0:36 0:51 1:07 1:24 1:43 2:04 2:29 2:59 3:33 4:17 5:16 6:44 9:54 12:00*
0:10 0:23 0:35 0:49 1:03 1:19 1:37 1:56 2:18 2:43 3:11 3:46 4:30 5:28 6:57 10:06
0:22 0:34 0:48 1:02 1:18 1:36 1:55 2:17 2:42 3:10 3:45 4:29 5:27 6:56 10:05 12:00*
Repetitive Z O N M L K J I H G F E D C B A
feet /meters
10 3.0 ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** 797 279 159 88 39
20 6.1 ** ** ** ** ** ** 917 399 279 208 159 120 88 62 39 18
30 9.1 ** ** 469 349 279 229 190 159 132 109 88 70 54 39 25 12
40 12.2 257 241 213 187 161 138 116 101 87 73 61 49 37 25 17 7
50 15.2 169 160 142 124 111 99 87 76 66 56 47 38 29 21 13 6
60 18.2 122 117 107 97 88 79 70 61 52 44 36 30 24 17 11 5
70 21.3 100 96 87 80 72 64 57 50 43 37 31 26 20 15 9 4
80 24.4 84 80 73 68 61 54 48 43 38 32 28 23 18 13 8 4
90 27.4 73 70 64 58 53 47 43 38 33 29 24 20 16 11 7 3
100 30.5 64 62 57 52 48 43 38 34 30 26 22 18 14 10 7 3
110 33.5 57 55 51 47 42 38 34 31 27 24 20 16 13 10 6 3
120 36.6 52 50 46 43 39 35 32 28 25 21 18 15 12 9 6 3
130 39.6 46 44 40 38 35 31 28 25 22 19 16 13 11 8 6 3
140 42.7 42 40 38 35 32 29 26 23 20 18 15 12 10 7 5 2
150 45.7 40 38 35 32 30 27 24 22 19 17 14 12 9 7 5 2
160 48.8 37 36 33 31 28 26 23 20 18 16 13 11 9 6 4 2
170 51.8 35 34 31 29 26 24 22 19 17 15 13 10 8 6 4 2
180 54.8 32 31 29 27 25 22 20 18 16 14 12 10 8 6 4 2
190 59.9 31 30 28 26 24 21 19 17 15 13 11 10 8 6 4 2

Residual Nitrogen Timetable for Repetitive Air Dives

Throughout the balance of this section, this type of overall level of excess or residual nitrogen present in tis-
diagram will be used to explain the process of planning and sue following the end of any no-decompression dive.
recording repetitive dives. Higher letters (i.e., closer to the end of the alphabet)
represent a greater overall level of residual nitrogen.
4.3.2 Accounting for Residual Nitrogen • Table 4, shown in Figure 4.10, actually provides a
To account for the residual nitrogen present in the combination of two tables. The upper table depicts
body from previous dives, and how that nitrogen will how the level of residual nitrogen decreases, the
impact subsequent dives, the U.S. Navy Dive Tables pro- longer the surface interval. The lower table shows
vides two tools: how divers must account for this excess nitrogen on
subsequent dives.
• Table 3, (see Figure 4.9), provides what are known as
Repetitive Group Designations or, more commonly, In the balance of this section, a number of examples
Repetitive Group Letters. These “letters” represent the and problems are presented that show how to use these

4-6 NOAA Diving Manual

Depth No-Decompression Group Designation
(feet/meters) Limits (min) A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O

10 3.0 unlimited 60 120 210 300 797

35 70
25 50
110 160
75 100
225 350 452
135 180 240 325 390 917 *
25 7.6 595 20 35 55 75 100 125 160 195 245 315 361 540 595
30 9.1 405 15 30 45 60 75 95 120 145 170 205 250 310 344 405
35 10.7 310 5 15 25 40 50 60 80 100 120 140 160 190 220 270 310
40 12.2 200 5 15 25 30 40 50 70 80 100 110 130 150 170 200
50 15.2 100 10 15 25 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
60 18.2 60 10 15 20 25 30 40 50 55 60
70 21.3 50 5 10 15 20 30 35 40 45 50
80 24.4 40 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 Start of
90 27.4 30 5 10 12 15 20 25 30 Interval
100 30.5 25 5 7 10 15 20 22 25 :
110 33.5 20 5 10 13 15 20 o f D iv e
120 36.6 15 5 10 12 15 :
Letter Group
at Start of
130 39.6 10 5 8 10 Surface Interval
140 42.7 10 5 7 10
150 45.7 5 5 Schedule
160 48.8 5 5 Used
170 51.8 5 5 80'/:20
180 54.8 5 5 M a x im u m
190 59.9 5 5 Depth

Calculation of a Repetitive Group Designation

tables to plan and make no-decompression, and repeti- Actual Bottom Time for this dive 19 minutes. What is
tive dives. their Repetitive Group Designation (Letter Group) at
the end of this first dive?
4.3.3 Finding Repetitive Group Designations
Following Single, No-Decompression Dives The answer appears in Figure 4.11.
If a repetitive dive takes place at least 12 hours follow-
ing any previous exposures to elevated partial pressures of Figure 4.11 reveals:
nitrogen, treat the first dive in any series of repetitive dives • Because a depth of 74 fsw does not appear on Table 3,
as a single dive. As outlined earlier in this chapter, all a the divers use the next greater depth, which is 80 fsw.
diver must do is make sure that their Actual Bottom Time • Because a value of 19 minutes does not appear in the
(ABT) for such dives does not exceed the U.S. Navy’s No- 80-foot row, they use the next greater time, which is
Decompression Limits. 20 minutes.
When such a dive is the first in a series of repetitive • Table 3 shows that, for a single dive schedule of 80
dives, the diver must take an additional step. That is, the fsw for 20 minutes, the Repetitive Group Designa-
diver must determine the Repetitive Group Designation tion at the beginning of the diver’s surface interval
(Letter Group) at the end of the dive. is E.

Example 2: Practice Problem 2:

Following is an example that illustrates how to find Following is a problem to illustrate how to find the
the applicable Letter Group at the end of a single dive. correct Letter Group following a no-decompression dive.

Dive team #2 is conducting an aquatic-life census in a At 10:13 am, dive team #3 descends to conduct an
quiet, saltwater estuary. During the first dive of the inspection of their research vessel’s running gear. During
day, they begin their descent at 9:35 am and reach a the course of the inspection, they accidentally drop a dive
maximum depth of 74 fsw (23 msw). At 9:54 am they light. The vessel is at anchor and the hard, sandy bottom
begin their ascent (surfacing at 9:57 am), making the is only 47-fsw deep, and the water is relatively clear.

Air Diving and Decompression 4-7

Depth No-Decompression Group Designation
(feet/meters) Limits (min) A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O

10 3.0 unlimited 60 120 210 300 797

35 70
25 50
110 160
75 100
225 350 452
135 180 240 325 390 917
25 7.6 595 20 35 55 75 100 125 160 195 245 315 361 540 595
30 9.1 405 15 30 45 60 75 95 120 145 170 205 250 310 344 405
35 10.7 310 5 15 25 40 50 60 80 100 120 140 160 190 220 270 310
40 12.2 200 5 15 25 30 40 50 70 80 100 110 130 150 170 200
50 15.2 100 10 15 25 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
60 18.2 60 10 15 20 25 30 40 50 55 60
70 21.3 50 5 10 15 20 30 35 40 45 50
80 24.4 40 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40
90 27.4 30 5 10 12 15 20 25 30
100 30.5 25 5 7 10 15 20 22 25 :
110 33.5 20 5 10 13 15 20
120 36.6 15 5 10 12 15 :
130 39.6 10 5 8 10
140 42.7 10 5 7 10
150 45.7 5 5 Schedule
160 48.8 5 5 Used
170 51.8 5 5 50Õ/:40
180 54.8 5 5
190 59.9 5 5

Answer to Practice Problem 2
Insofar as recovering the light poses little risk, the divers do Example 3:
so. With the light recovered and the inspection complete, To determine how much residual nitrogen is present
they begin their ascent at 10:52 am and surface at 10:54 following a Surface Interval (SI) between dives, use the
am. What is the Letter Group at the end of the dive? upper portion of Table 4. The best way to explain how to
do so is with an example:
The answer appears in Figure 4.12.
Dive team #2 plans to make an afternoon dive to com-
Figure 4.12 reveals: plete the aquatic-life census they started in the morning.
• Because a depth of 47 fsw does not appear on The divers had surfaced from the day’s first dive at 9:57
Table 3, the divers use the next greater depth, am, and determined that, following this dive, their
which is 50 fsw. Repetitive Group Designation (Letter Group) was E.
• Because a value of 39 minutes does not appear in the They anticipate re-entering the water at approximately
50-foot row, they use the next greater time, which is 3:00 pm. What will their Letter Group be at the begin-
40 minutes. ning of this next dive?
• Moving vertically up from the 40 minute time we find
that the Repetitive Group Designation at the end of The answer appears in Figure 4.13.
the dive (beginning of our surface interval) is F.
Figure 4.13 reveals:
4.3.4 Determining a Repetitive Group Designation • The first step in this process is to determine the length
Following a Surface Interval of the Surface Interval. This is also known as Surface
The longer the diver remains on the surface following Interval Time or SIT (literally, time spent SITting on
a dive, the less residual nitrogen will be present in body tis- the surface). In this case, the interval between 9:57 am
sues at the beginning of subsequent dives. This directly and 3:00 pm is five hours, three minutes (5:03).
affects how long the diver can remain under water on these • The next step is to enter Table 4 from the left, starting
repetitive dives, without exceeding the U.S. Navy’s No- with the Repetitive Group Designation at the beginning
Decompression Limits. of the Surface Interval, which in this case is E.

4-8 NOAA Diving Manual

Start of End of
Surface Surface
Interval Interval A 0:10
: : B 0:10
l C 0:10 1:40 4:50
Letter Group Letter Group va 1:39 4:49 12:00*
: at Start of at End of ce
in D 0:10
Surface Interval Surface Interval fa
es E 0:10 0:55 1:58 3:25 6:35
f th 0:54 1:57 3:24 6:34 12:00*
go 0:10 0:46 1:30 2:29 3:58 7:06
in nin F
0:45 1:29 2:28 3:57 7:05 12:00*
beg 0:10 0:41 1:16 2:00 2:59 4:26 7:36
the G
0:40 1:15 1:59 2:58 4:25 7:35 12:00*
Schedule p at
ou H 0:10 0:37 1:07 1:42 2:24 3:21 4:50 8:00
Used e gr 0:36 1:06 1:41 2:23 3:20 4:49 7:59 12:00*
t itiv I 0:10 0:34 1:00 1:30 2:03 2:45 3:44 5:13 8:22
pe 2:44 3:43 5:12 8:21 12:00*
80Õ/:20 Re 0:33 0:59 1:29 2:02
J 0:10 0:32 0:55 1:20 1:48 2:21 3:05 4:03 5:41 8:51
0:31 0:54 1:19 1:47 2:20 3:04 4:02 5:40 8:50 12:00*
K 0:10 0:29 0:50 1:12 1:36 2:04 2:39 3:22 4:20 5:49 8:59
0:28 0:49 1:11 1:35 2:03 2:38 3:21 4:19 5:48 8:58 12:00*
L 0:10 0:27 0:46 1:05 1:26 1:50 2:20 2:54 3:37 4:36 6:03 9:13
0:26 0:45 1:04 1:25 1:49 2:19 2:53 3:36 4:35 6:02 9:12 12:00
M 0:10 0:26 0:43 1:00 1:19 1:40 2:06 2:35 3:09 3:53 4:50 6:19 9:29
0:25 0:42 0:59 1:18 1:39 2:05 2:34 3:08 3:52 4:49 6:18 9:28 12:00*
0:10 0:25 0:40 0:55 1:12 1:31 1:54 2:19 2:48 3:23 4:05 5:04 6:33 9:44
0:24 0:39 0:54 1:11 1:30 1:53 2:18 2:47 3:22 4:04 5:03 6:32 9:43 12:00*
0:10 0:24 0:37 0:52 1:08 1:25 1:44 2:05 2:30 3:00 3:34 4:18 5:17 6:45 9:55
0:23 0:36 0:51 1:07 1:24 1:43 2:04 2:29 2:59 3:33 4:17 5:16 6:44 9:54 12:00*
1:03 1:19 1:37 1:56 2:18 2:43 3:11 3:46 4:30 5:28 6:57 10:06
Z 0:10 0:23 0:35 0:49
0:22 0:34 0:48 1:02 1:18 1:36 1:55 2:17 2:42 3:10 3:45 4:29 5:27 6:56 10:05 12:00*

Answer to Example 3
• From here, the divers continue across the table until The answer appears in Figure 4.14.
they find a range of times into which the Surface Inter-
val of five hours, three minutes falls. This appears in Figure 4.14 reveals:
• The Surface Interval Time that elapsed between 10:54
the second column from the right.
am and 1:45 pm is two hours, 51 minutes (2:51).
• Moving down this column, they arrive at the new
• As before, the divers enter Table 4 from the left, starting at
Repetitive Group Designation of B.
the Repetitive Group Designation which, in this case is F.
• They continue across the table until they find a range of
Practice Problem 3:
times into which the Surface Interval of two hours, 51
Following is a practice problem that illustrates of minutes falls. This appears in the third column from the
how to find the correct Letter Group following a Surface right.
Interval: • Moving down this column, they arrive at the new Let-
Continuing the scenario presented in Practice Problem 2, ter Group C.
while dive team #3 was retrieving the dive light they
accidentally dropped during their morning dive, they dis- 4.3.5 Determining Adjusted No-Decompression Limits
covered an apparently abandoned anchor with no sur- for Repetitive Dives
face float. Since the anchor appeared to be in good con- As discussed earlier in this section, finding the allow-
dition, they reported it to their divemaster. He, in turn, able No-Decompression Limits for single dives is relatively
asked them to make a second dive, to further inspect the easy. All a diver needs to do is consult the third column of
anchor and see if it could be of use to the vessel. Table 3. However, because divers must account for resid-
ual nitrogen remaining in their bodies’ tissues from previ-
The divers surfaced from their morning dive at 10:54 am. ous dives, determining the allowable No-Decompression
At that time, their Repetitive Group Designation was F. Limit for repetitive dives is a somewhat more complex
They anticipate re-entering the water at 1:45 pm. What process. To do so, divers must consult the lower portion of
will their new Letter Group be at the end of this Surface Table 4 to see how their Repetitive Group Designation
Interval? equates to time spent under water at a particular depth,

Air Diving and Decompression 4-9

A 0:10
: : B 0:10
C 0:10 1:40 4:50
al 1:39 4:49 12:00*
: nterv
ei D 0:10 1:10 2:39 5:49
c 1:09 2:38 5:48 12:00*
u rfa
thes E 0:10 0:55 1:58 3:25 6:35
of 0:54 1:57 3:24 6:34 12:00*
g 0:10 0:46 1:30 2:29 3:58 7:06
nin F
gin 0:45 1:29 2:28 3:57 7:05 12:00*
e be 0:10 0:41 1:16 2:00 2:59 4:26 7:36
Schedule G
t th 0:40 1:15 1:59 2:58 4:25 7:35 12:00*
Used upa 0:10 0:37 1:07 1:42 2:24 3:21 4:50 8:00
gro H
0:36 1:06 1:41 2:23 3:20 4:49 7:59 12:00*
50Õ/:40 titi 0:10 0:34 1:00 1:30 2:03 2:45 3:44 5:13 8:22
pe I
2:44 3:43 5:12 8:21 12:00*
Re 0:33 0:59 1:29 2:02
0:10 0:32 0:55 1:20 1:48 2:21 3:05 4:03 5:41 8:51
0:31 0:54 1:19 1:47 2:20 3:04 4:02 5:40 8:50 12:00*
K 0:10 0:29 0:50 1:12 1:36 2:04 2:39 3:22 4:20 5:49 8:59
0:28 0:49 1:11 1:35 2:03 2:38 3:21 4:19 5:48 8:58 12:00*
L 0:10 0:27 0:46 1:05 1:26 1:50 2:20 2:54 3:37 4:36 6:03 9:13
0:26 0:45 1:04 1:25 1:49 2:19 2:53 3:36 4:35 6:02 9:12 12:00
M 0:10 0:26 0:43 1:00 1:19 1:40 2:06 2:35 3:09 3:53 4:50 6:19 9:29
0:25 0:42 0:59 1:18 1:39 2:05 2:34 3:08 3:52 4:49 6:18 9:28 12:00*
0:10 0:25 0:40 0:55 1:12 1:31 1:54 2:19 2:48 3:23 4:05 5:04 6:33 9:44
0:24 0:39 0:54 1:11 1:30 1:53 2:18 2:47 3:22 4:04 5:03 6:32 9:43 12:00*
0:10 0:24 0:37 0:52 1:08 1:25 1:44 2:05 2:30 3:00 3:34 4:18 5:17 6:45 9:55
0:23 0:36 0:51 1:07 1:24 1:43 2:04 2:29 2:59 3:33 4:17 5:16 6:44 9:54 12:00*
0:10 0:23 0:35 0:49 1:03 1:19 1:37 1:56 2:18 2:43 3:11 3:46 4:30 5:28 6:57 10:06
0:22 0:34 0:48 1:02 1:18 1:36 1:55 2:17 2:42 3:10 3:45 4:29 5:27 6:56 10:05 12:00*

Answer to Practice Problem 3

then deduct this time from the single-dive No-Decom- underlies the U.S. Navy Dive Tables, the amount of
pression Limit for this depth that appears on Table 3. residual nitrogen present in the divers’ bodies at the
start of their second dive is roughly equal to that
Example 4: which would be present in their systems 11 minutes
Following is an example of how to use Tables 3 and 4 into a single dive to a depth of 60 fsw.
(see Appendix V) to determine the adjusted No-Decom- • To determine the adjusted No-Decompression
pression Limit for a repetitive dive: Limit, they deduct 11 minutes from the U.S. Navy
Dive Tables’ single-dive No-Decompression Limit of
Continuing with the example of the divers conducting 60 minutes found in Table 3. Doing so results in a
the aquatic-life census, it is now 3:00 pm. Team #2 is time of 49 minutes.
now ready to enter the water to finish the balance of Thus, if the divers keep the Actual Bottom Time
their aquatic-life census. They finished their first dive of (ABT) of their second dive within a limit of 49 minutes,
the day with a Repetitive Group Designation (Letter and do not exceed a maximum depth of 60 fsw, they will
Group) of E. After five hours and three minutes on the remain within the U.S. Navy Dive Tables’ No-Decompres-
surface, their new Letter Group is B. Having completed sion Limit.
the deepest portion of their survey in the morning, they
do not expect to exceed a maximum depth of 60 fsw Practice Problem 4:
(18.4 msw) on their second dive. What is their adjusted The following practice problem will help illustrate how
No-Decompression Limit for this depth? to determine adjusted No-Decompression Limits for repeti-
tive dives:
The answer appears in Figure 4.15.
Further continuing the scenario in Practice Problem 3, dive
Figure 4.15 reveals: team #3 is preparing to perform an inspection of an anchor
• The divers begin this process by consulting Table 4. they discovered during their morning dive. They have
At the start of the dive, the divers’ Repetitive Group already determined that their Repetitive Group Designation
Designation is B. Moving down the “B” column, (Letter Group) at the start of this dive will be C. They also
they look for its intersection with the 60-foot row. know that the depth of the upcoming dive will approach,
• At this intersection point, they find a Residual Nitro- but not exceed, 50 fsw. What is the maximum time they
gen Time (RNT) of 11 minutes. What this means is can spend on this dive without exceeding the U.S. Navy
that, according to the mathematical model that Dive Tables’ No-Decompression Limit?

4-10 NOAA Diving Manual

Depth No-Decompression Repetitive Z O N M L K J I H G F E D C B A
(feet/meters) Limits (min) Dive Depth NEW GROUP DESIGNATION
feet / meters
10 3.0 unlimited 10 3.0 ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** 797 279 159 88 39
15 4.6 unlimited 20 6.1 ** ** ** ** ** ** 917 399 279 208 159 120 88 62 39 18
20 6.1 unlimited 30 9.1 469 349 279 229 190 159 132 109 88 70 54 39 25 12
25 7.6 595 40 12.2 257 241 213 187 161 138 116 101 87 73 61 49 37 25 17 7
30 9.1 405 50 15.2 169 160 142 124 111 99 87 76 66 56 47 38 29 21 13 6
35 10.7 310 60 18.2 122 117 107 97 88 79 70 61 52 44 36 30 24 17 11 5
40 12.2 200 70 21.3 100 96 87 80 72 64 57 50 43 37 31 26 20 15 9 4
50 15.2 100 80 24.4 84 80 73 68 61 54 48 43 38 32 28 23 18 13 8 4
60 18.2 60 90 27.4 73 70 64 58 53 47 43 38 33 29 24 20 16 11 7 3
70 21.3 50 100 30.5 64 62 57 52 48 43 38 34 30 26 22 18 14 10 7 3
80 24.4 40 110 33.5 57 55 51 47 42 38 34 31 27 24 20 16 13 10 6 3
90 27.4 30 120 36.6 52 50 46 43 39 35 32 28 25 21 18 15 12 9 6 3
100 30.5 25 130 39.6 46 44 40 38 35 31 28 25 22 19 16 13 11 8 6 3
110 33.5 20 140 42.7 42 40 38 35 32 29 26 23 20 18 15 12 10 7 5 2
120 36.6 15 150 45.7 40 38 35 32 30 27 24 22 19 17 14 12 9 7 5 2
130 39.6 10 160 48.8 37 36 33 31 28 26 23 20 18 16 13 11 9 6 4 2
140 42.7 10 170 51.8 35 34 31 29 26 24 22 19 17 15 13 10 8 6 4 2
150 45.7 5 180 54.8 32 31 29 27 25 22 20 18 16 14 12 10 8 6 4 2
160 48.8 5 190 59.9 31 30 28 26 24 21 19 17 15 13 11 10 8 6 4 2
170 51.8 5
180 54.8 5 Residual Nitrogen Times (Minutes)
190 59.9 5

Answer to Example 4


Depth No-Decompression Repetitive Z O N M L K J I H G F E D C B A

(feet/meters) Limits (min) Dive Depth NEW GROUP DESIGNATION
feet / meters
10 3.0 unlimited 10 3.0 ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** 797 279 159 88 39
15 4.6 unlimited 20 6.1 ** ** ** ** ** ** 917 399 279 208 159 120 88 62 39 18
20 6.1 unlimited 30 9.1 469 349 279 229 190 159 132 109 88 70 54 39 25 12
25 7.6 595 40 12.2 257 241 213 187 161 138 116 101 87 73 61 49 37 25 17 7
30 9.1 405 50 15.2 169 160 142 124 111 99 87 76 66 56 47 38 29 21 13 6
35 10.7 310 60 18.2 122 117 107 97 88 79 70 61 52 44 36 30 24 17 11 5
40 12.2 200 70 21.3 100 96 87 80 72 64 57 50 43 37 31 26 20 15 9 4
50 15.2 100 80 24.4 84 80 73 68 61 54 48 43 38 32 28 23 18 13 8 4
60 18.2 60 90 27.4 73 70 64 58 53 47 43 38 33 29 24 20 16 11 7 3
70 21.3 50 100 30.5 64 62 57 52 48 43 38 34 30 26 22 18 14 10 7 3
80 24.4 40 110 33.5 57 55 51 47 42 38 34 31 27 24 20 16 13 10 6 3
90 27.4 30 120 36.6 52 50 46 43 39 35 32 28 25 21 18 15 12 9 6 3
100 30.5 25 130 39.6 46 44 40 38 35 31 28 25 22 19 16 13 11 8 6 3
110 33.5 20 140 42.7 42 40 38 35 32 29 26 23 20 18 15 12 10 7 5 2
120 36.6 15 150 45.7 40 38 35 32 30 27 24 22 19 17 14 12 9 7 5 2
130 39.6 10 160 48.8 37 36 33 31 28 26 23 20 18 16 13 11 9 6 4 2
140 42.7 10 170 51.8 35 34 31 29 26 24 22 19 17 15 13 10 8 6 4 2
150 45.7 5 180 54.8 32 31 29 27 25 22 20 18 16 14 12 10 8 6 4 2
160 48.8 5 190 59.9 31 30 28 26 24 21 19 17 15 13 11 10 8 6 4 2
170 51.8 5 Residual Nitrogen Times (Minutes)
180 54.8 5
190 59.9 5

Answer to Practice Problem 4

Air Diving and Decompression 4-11

193 183 175 163 151 139 127 113 99 84

94 87 79 71 62 53 44 34

55 49 43 36 30 24 16

46 41 35 30 24 19 13

36 32 27 22 17 12

27 23 19 14 10 6

22 18 15 11 7

17 14 10 7

12 9 6

Commercially Produced Version of the U.S. Navy Dive Tables

The answer appears in Figure 4.16. dive, it is a good idea to calculate and record the
adjusted No-Decompression Limits for all possible
Figure 4.16 reveals: maximum depths on a plastic slate and carry this dur-
• The divers start by entering Table 4 in the column for ing the dive. As an alternative, take along commer-
Letter Group C. Moving downward, they look for this cially produced plastic versions of the U.S. Navy Dive
column’s intersection with the row for a depth of 50 Tables that contain this information.
fsw. This gives them a Residual Nitrogen Time (RNT)
of 21 minutes. 4.3.6 Determining Repetitive Group Designations
• Deducting 21 minutes RNT from the U.S. Navy Dive Following Repetitive Dives
Tables’ single-dive No-Decompression Limit (NDL) Just as the U.S. Navy Dive Tables can provide a Repeti-
of 100 minutes (Table 3), they arrive at an adjusted tive Group Designation (Letter Group) following single
NDL of 79 minutes. dives, they can also do so following repetitive dives. Howev-
er, as with determining adjusted no-decompression limits, the
In regard to determining adjusted No-Decompression process for doing so is slightly more complex.
Limits for repetitive dives, there are two more points of
which divers should be aware: Example 5:
Following is an example showing how to use Tables 3
and 4 (see Figure 4.18) to determine the applicable Letter
• Insofar as the adjusted No-Decompression Limits for Group at the end of any repetitive dive:
any combination of Repetitive Group Designation and
depth never changes, most commercially produced Continuing with an earlier example, at 3:00 pm dive team
versions of the U.S. Navy and similar dive tables sim- #2 enters the water to finish the balance of their aquatic-
ply provide this information, as shown in Figure 4.17. life census. Their Letter Group at the beginning of this dive
This figure provides both the RNT and adjusted no- is B. They reach a maximum depth of 51 fsw and begin
stop dive times at each depth interval, thus eliminating their ascent 42 minutes after initiating their descent. What
the requirement to subtract the RNT from the no- is their Repetitive Group Designation (Letter Group) at the
decompression limit to obtain the ABT. The top num- end of this dive?
ber is the RNT in minutes and the bottom number is
the adjusted no-stop dive time in minutes. Having this The answer appears in Figure 4.18.
information provided can greatly simplify the planning
of repetitive dives. Figure 4.18 reveals:
• Because the diver cannot always be certain of the • The divers know from the previous example that, for a
maximum depth that may be reached during any dive in which team #2 starts in Letter Group B, and

4-12 NOAA Diving Manual

TABLE 4 Repetitive Z O N M L K J I H G F E D C B A
feet /meters
10 3.0 ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** 797 279 159 88 39
20 6.1 ** ** ** ** ** ** 917 399 279 208 159 120 88 62 39 18
30 9.1 469 349 279 229 190 159 132 109 88 70 54 39 25 12
40 12.2 257 241 213 187 161 138 116 101 87 73 61 49 37 25 17 7
50 15.2 169 160 142 124 111 99 87 76 66 56 47 38 29 21 13 6
60 18.2 122 117 107 97 88 79 70 61 52 44 36 30 24 17 11 5
70 21.3 100 96 87 80 72 64 57 50 43 37 31 26 20 15 9 4
80 24.4 84 80 73 68 61 54 48 43 38 32 28 23 18 13 8 4
90 27.4 73 70 64 58 53 47 43 38 33 29 24 20 16 11 7 3
100 30.5 64 62 57 52 48 43 38 34 30 26 22 18 14 10 7 3
110 33.5 57 55 51 47 42 38 34 31 27 24 20 16 13 10 6 3
120 36.6 52 50 46 43 39 35 32 28 25 21 18 15 12 9 6 3
130 39.6 46 44 40 38 35 31 28 25 22 19 16 13 11 8 6 3
140 42.7 42 40 38 35 32 29 26 23 20 18 15 12 10 7 5 2
150 45.7 40 38 35 32 30 27 24 22 19 17 14 12 9 7 5 2
160 48.8 37 36 33 31 28 26 23 20 18 16 13 11 9 6 4 2
170 51.8 35 34 31 29 26 24 22 19 17 15 13 10 8 6 4 2
180 54.8 32 31 29 27 25 22 20 18 16 14 12 10 8 6 4 2
190 59.9 31 30 28 26 24 21 19 17 15 13 11 10 8 6 4 2
Residual Nitrogen Times (Minutes)

: : :

Schedule Schedule
Used Used
80Õ/:20 60Õ/:55

Depth No-Decompression Group Designation Letter
(feet/meters) Limits (min) A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O

10 3.0 unlimited 60 120 210 300 797

15 4.6 unlimited
35 70 110 160 *
225 350 452
20 6.1 25 50 75 100 135 180 240 325 390 917
20 35
15 30
55 75
45 60
100 125 160 195 245 315 361 540
75 95 120 145 170 205 250 310
* 595
344 405
35 10.7 310 5 15 25 40 50 60 80 100 120 140 160 190 220 270 310
40 12.2 200 5 15 25 30 40 50 70 80 100 110 130 150 170 200
50 15.2 100 10 15 25 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
60 18.2 60 10 15 20 25 30 40 50 55 60
70 21.3 50 5 10 15 20 30 35 40 45 50
80 24.4 40 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40
90 27.4 30 5 10 12 15 20 25 30
100 30.5 25 5 7 10 15 20 22 25
110 33.5 20 5 10 13 15 20
120 36.6 15 5 10 12 15
130 39.6 10 5 8 10
140 42.7 10 5 7 10
150 45.7 5 5
160 48.8 5 5
170 51.8 5 5
180 54.8 5 5
190 59.9 5 5

Answer to Example 5

Air Diving and Decompression 4-13

reach a maximum depth of between 51 and 60 fsw, 4.3.8 Determining the Minimum Allowable
their Residual Nitrogen Time (RNT) will be 11 min- Surface Interval Between Dives
utes. There are times when a diver may need to use the U.S.
• By adding this RNT to the diver’s Actual Bottom Navy Dive Tables to determine what is the minimum sur-
Time (ABT) of 42 minutes, they obtain an Equiva- face time needed before making a repetitive dive to a par-
lent Single Dive Time (ESDT) of 53 minutes. ticular depth, for a specific amount of time.
• The divers treat this repetitive dive as though it were
a single dive to 51 fsw for 53 minutes. Using the pro- Example 6:
cedures outlined earlier, they use Table 3 to obtain a Following is an example to illustrate why a diver
Repetitive Group Designation (Letter Group) of I. might want to determine a minimum Surface Interval, and
how to do so.
Practice Problem 5:
The following practice problem will illustrate how to Let’s say that dive team #2, from earlier examples,
determine Repetitive Group Designations (Letter Groups) wants to complete their aquatic-life census as quickly as
following repetitive dives: possible, to avoid being in the water when a forecast
afternoon thunderstorm arrives. They surfaced from
Again continuing the scenario presented in Practice Prob- their first dive at 9:57 am, with a Repetitive Group Des-
lems 2 through 4, dive team #3 makes a mid-afternoon ignation (Letter Group) of E. The divers’ second dive
dive to inspect the anchor discovered during their morn- will be to a depth of no more than 60 fsw, and they esti-
ing dive. They have already determined that their Repeti- mate they will need a maximum of 40 minutes to com-
tive Group Designation (Letter Group) at the start of this plete their survey. What is the soonest the divers can
repetitive dive will be C. The divers complete the inspec- make their second dive?
tion and begin their ascent 13 minutes after initiating
descent. During the dive, they reach a maximum depth of The answer appears in Figure 4.21.
46 fsw. What is their Letter Group at the end of this dive?
Figure 4.21 reveals:
The answer appears in Figure 4.19. • The first step in determining a minimum allowable
surface interval between two dives is to establish what
Figure 4.19 reveals: the maximum allowable Equivalent Single Dive Time
• The divers already know from the previous problem (ESDT) will be for the second dive. When making a
that, for a dive in which they start in Letter Group no-decompression dive, the ESDT will be the same as
C, and reach a maximum depth of between 41 and the No-Decompression Limit for the second dive’s
50 fsw, their Residual Nitrogen Time (RNT) will be maximum possible depth. In this case, dive team #2
21 minutes. plans to go no deeper than 60 fsw; the U.S. Navy Dive
• Adding this RNT to their Actual Bottom Time Tables’ No-Decompression Limit for 60 fsw is 60 min-
(ABT) of 13 minutes, they obtain an Equivalent Sin- utes. Thus, their ESDT for the second dive must be
gle Dive Time (ESDT) of 34 minutes. equal to or less than 60 minutes.
• Treating this repetitive dive as the equivalent of a • Next, the divers deduct the planned maximum Actual
single dive to 46 fsw for 34 minutes, the divers con- Bottom Time (ABT) for the maximum allowable Total
sult Table 3 to obtain a Repetitive Group Designa- Bottom Time (ESDT). In this instance, subtracting the
tion (Letter Group) of F. maximum ABT of 40 minutes from the maximum
ESDT of 60 minutes reveals that the Residual Nitro-
4.3.7 Why Repetitive Group Designations Are Important gen Time (RNT) at the beginning of the second dive
If divers never made more than one repetitive dive in must be equal to or less than 20 minutes.
any 12-hour period, determining the Repetitive Group Des- • The third step is to consult Table 4 to find out what
ignation at the end of such dives might be of little value. Repetitive Group Designation (Letter Group) will give
However, as Figure 4.20 shows, it is possible to make sever- the divers an RNT equal to or less than 20 minutes at 60
al such dives in succession—in which case, determining the fsw. In this case, the divers discover that Letter Group C
Letter Groups for the beginning and end of every dive will give them an RNT of 17 minutes—a value that most
becomes vital to divers who wish to use the U.S. Navy Dive closely approaches the desired 20 minutes, without
Tables to help avoid decompression sickness (DCS). exceeding it.
Theoretically, it is possible for divers to make an infinite • The final step in this process is to find out the mini-
number of repetitive dives, and to track their Repetitive Group mum amount of time needed to reach Letter Group
status while doing so. In the real world, working divers seldom C from Letter Group E. Consulting Table 4, it is
make more than two to three dives in a single, 12-hour period. clear that the divers must wait a minimum of one
Nevertheless, the ability to accurately plan and record these hour, 58 minutes to reach Group C, having surfaced
dives using the U.S. Navy Dive Tables is important. in Group E. Thus, the divers will re-enter the water

4-14 NOAA Diving Manual

TABLE 4 Repetitive Z
Dive Depth
feet /meters
10 3.0 ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** 797 279 159 88 39
20 6.1 ** ** ** ** ** ** 917 399 279 208 159 120 88 62 39 18
30 9.1 469 349 279 229 190 159 132 109 88 70 54 39 25 12
40 12.2 257 241 213 187 161 138 116 101 87 73 61 49 37 25 17 7
50 15.2 169 160 142 124 111 99 87 76 66 56 47 38 29 21 13 6
60 18.2 122 117 107 97 88 79 70 61 52 44 36 30 24 17 11 5
70 21.3 100 96 87 80 72 64 57 50 43 37 31 26 20 15 9 4
80 24.4 84 80 73 68 61 54 48 43 38 32 28 23 18 13 8 4
90 27.4 73 70 64 58 53 47 43 38 33 29 24 20 16 11 7 3
100 30.5 64 62 57 52 48 43 38 34 30 26 22 18 14 10 7 3
110 33.5 57 55 51 47 42 38 34 31 27 24 20 16 13 10 6 3
120 36.6 52 50 46 43 39 35 32 28 25 21 18 15 12 9 6 3
130 39.6 46 44 40 38 35 31 28 25 22 19 16 13 11 8 6 3
140 42.7 42 40 38 35 32 29 26 23 20 18 15 12 10 7 5 2
150 45.7 40 38 35 32 30 27 24 22 19 17 14 12 9 7 5 2
160 48.8 37 36 33 31 28 26 23 20 18 16 13 11 9 6 4 2
170 51.8 35 34 31 29 26 24 22 19 17 15 13 10 8 6 4 2
180 54.8 32 31 29 27 25 22 20 18 16 14 12 10 8 6 4 2
190 59.9 31 30 28 26 24 21 19 17 15 13 11 10 8 6 4 2
Residual Nitrogen Times (Minutes)

: : :

Schedule Schedule
Used Used
50Õ/:40 50Õ/:40

Depth No-Decompression Group Designation Letter
(feet/meters) Limits (min) A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O

10 3.0 unlimited 60 120 210 300 797

15 4.6 unlimited
35 70 110 160 *
225 350 452
20 6.1 25 50 75 100 135 180 240 325 390 917
20 35
15 30
55 75
45 60
100 125 160 195 245 315 361 540
75 95 120 145 170 205 250 310
* 595
344 405
35 10.7 310 5 15 25 40 50 60 80 100 120 140 160 190 220 270 310
40 12.2 200 5 15 25 30 40 50 70 80 100 110 130 150 170 200
50 15.2 100 10 15 25 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
60 18.2 60 10 15 20 25 30 40 50 55 60
70 21.3 50 5 10 15 20 30 35 40 45 50
80 24.4 40 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40
90 27.4 30 5 10 12 15 20 25 30
100 30.5 25 5 7 10 15 20 22 25
110 33.5 20 5 10 13 15 20
120 36.6 15 5 10 12 15
130 39.6 10 5 8 10
140 42.7 10 5 7 10
150 45.7 5 5
160 48.8 5 5
170 51.8 5 5
180 54.8 5 5
190 59.9 5 5
Answer to Practice Problem 5

Air Diving and Decompression 4-15

: : : : :
Schedule Schedule Schedule
Used Used Used
50Õ/:40 50Õ/:40 40Õ/:70

Record of Several Successive Repetitive Dives

A 0:10

TABLE 4 B 0:10
l C 0:10 1:40 4:50
PART fac
D 0:10
OF ing
of th
TABLE 3 t theb
G 0:10
p a
0:10 0:37 1:07 1:42 2:24 3:21 4:50 8:00
rou H
eg 0:36 1:06 1:41 2:23 3:20 4:49 7:59 12:00*
tiv 2:03 2:45 3:44 5:13 8:22
p eti I 0:10 0:34 1:00 1:30
Re 0:33 0:59 1:29 2:02 2:44 3:43 5:12 8:21 12:00*
0:10 0:32 0:55 1:20 1:48 2:21 3:05 4:03 5:41 8:51
Depth No-Decompression J
0:31 0:54 1:19 1:47 2:20 3:04 4:02 5:40 8:50 12:00*
(feet/meters) Limits (min) K 0:10 0:29 0:50 1:12 1:36 2:04 2:39 3:22 4:20 5:49 8:59
0:28 0:49 1:11 1:35 2:03 2:38 3:21 4:19 5:48 8:58 12:00*
L 0:10 0:27 0:46 1:05 1:26 1:50 2:20 2:54 3:37 4:36 6:03 9:13
10 3.0 unlimited 0:26 0:45 1:04 1:25 1:49 2:19 2:53 3:36 4:35 6:02 9:12 12:00
0:10 0:26 0:43 1:00 1:19 1:40 2:06 2:35 3:09 3:53 4:50 6:19 9:29
15 4.6 unlimited M
0:25 0:42 0:59 1:18 1:39 2:05 2:34 3:08 3:52 4:49 6:18 9:28 12:00*
20 6.1 unlimited N
0:10 0:25 0:40 0:55 1:12 1:31 1:54 2:19 2:48 3:23 4:05 5:04 6:33 9:44
25 7.6 595 0:24 0:39 0:54 1:11 1:30 1:53 2:18 2:47 3:22 4:04 5:03 6:32 9:43 12:00*
0:10 0:24 0:37 0:52 1:08 1:25 1:44 2:05 2:30 3:00 3:34 4:18 5:17 6:45 9:55
30 9.1 405 O
0:23 0:36 0:51 1:07 1:24 1:43 2:04 2:29 2:59 3:33 4:17 5:16 6:44 9:54 12:00*
35 10.7 310 0:10 0:23 0:35 0:49 1:03 1:19 1:37 1:56 2:18 2:43 3:11 3:46 4:30 5:28 6:57 10:06
0:22 0:34 0:48 1:02 1:18 1:36 1:55 2:17 2:42 3:10 3:45 4:29 5:27 6:56 10:05 12:00*
40 12.2 200 Repetitive Z O N M L K J I H G F E D C B A
50 15.2 100 Dive Depth NEW GROUP DESIGNATION
60 18.2 60 feet / meters
70 21.3 50 10 3.0 ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** 797 279 159 88 39
20 6.1 ** ** ** ** ** ** 917 399 279 208 159 120 88 62 39 18
80 24.4 40 30 9.1 ** ** 469 349 279 229 190 159 132 109 88 70 54 39 25 12
90 27.4 30 40 12.2 257
50 15.2 169
100 30.5 25 60 18.2 122 117 107 97 88 79 70 61 52 44 36 30 24 17 11 5
110 33.5 20 70 21.3 100 96 87 80 72 64 57 50 43 37 31 26 20 15 9 4
80 24.4 84 80 73 68 61 54 48 43 38 32 28 23 18 13 8 4
120 36.6 15 90 27.4 73 70 64 58 53 47 43 38 33 29 24 20 16 11 7 3
130 39.6 10 100 30.5 64 62 57 52 48 43 38 34 30 26 22 18 14 10 7 3
110 33.5 57 55 51 47 42 38 34 31 27 24 20 16 13 10 6 3
140 42.7 10 120 36.6 52 50 46 43 39 35 32 28 25 21 18 15 12 9 6 3
150 45.7 5 130 39.6 46 44 40 38 35 31 28 25 22 19 16 13 11 8 6 3
140 42.7 42 40 38 35 32 29 26 23 20 18 15 12 10 7 5 2
160 48.8 5 150 45.7 40 38 35 32 30 27 24 22 19 17 14 12 9 7 5 2
170 51.8 5 160 48.8 37 36 33 31 28 26 23 20 18 16 13 11 9 6 4 2
180 54.8 5 170 51.8 35 34 31 29 26 24 22 19 17 15 13 10 8 6 4 2
180 54.8 32 31 29 27 25 22 20 18 16 14 12 10 8 6 4 2
190 59.9 5 190 59.9 31 30 28 26 24 21 19 17 15 13 11 10 8 6 4 2
Residual Nitrogen Times (Minutes)

: :

Used Schedule

Answer to Example 6

4-16 NOAA Diving Manual

A 0:10
TABLE 4 B 0:10
l C 0:10 1:40 4:50
rva 1:39 4:49 12:00*
nte 0:10 1:10 2:39 5:49
PART sur
fa ce
i D
f the E
0:54 1:57 3:24 6:34 12:00*
OF e gin
F 0:10
eb 0:10 0:41 1:16 2:00 2:59 4:26 7:36
TABLE 3 grou
t th
H 0:10
0:36 1:06 1:41 2:23 3:20 4:49 7:59 12:00*
tit ive 0:10 0:34 1:00 1:30 2:03 2:45 3:44 5:13 8:22
pe I
2:44 3:43 5:12 8:21 12:00*
Re 0:33 0:59 1:29 2:02
J 0:10 0:32 0:55 1:20 1:48 2:21 3:05 4:03 5:41 8:51
Depth No-Decompression 0:31 0:54 1:19 1:47 2:20 3:04 4:02 5:40 8:50 12:00*
0:10 0:29 0:50 1:12 1:36 2:04 2:39 3:22 4:20 5:49 8:59
(feet/meters) Limits (min) K
0:28 0:49 1:11 1:35 2:03 2:38 3:21 4:19 5:48 8:58 12:00*
L 0:10 0:27 0:46 1:05 1:26 1:50 2:20 2:54 3:37 4:36 6:03 9:13
0:26 0:45 1:04 1:25 1:49 2:19 2:53 3:36 4:35 6:02 9:12 12:00
10 3.0 unlimited 0:10 0:26 0:43 1:00 1:19 1:40 2:06 2:35 3:09 3:53 4:50 6:19 9:29
15 4.6 unlimited 0:25 0:42 0:59 1:18 1:39 2:05 2:34 3:08 3:52 4:49 6:18 9:28 12:00*
20 6.1 unlimited 0:10 0:25 0:40 0:55 1:12 1:31 1:54 2:19 2:48 3:23 4:05 5:04 6:33 9:44
0:24 0:39 0:54 1:11 1:30 1:53 2:18 2:47 3:22 4:04 5:03 6:32 9:43 12:00*
25 7.6 595 O
0:10 0:24 0:37 0:52 1:08 1:25 1:44 2:05 2:30 3:00 3:34 4:18 5:17 6:45 9:55
30 9.1 405 0:23 0:36 0:51 1:07 1:24 1:43 2:04 2:29 2:59 3:33 4:17 5:16 6:44 9:54 12:00*
0:10 0:23 0:35 0:49 1:03 1:19 1:37 1:56 2:18 2:43 3:11 3:46 4:30 5:28 6:57 10:06
35 10.7 310 Z
0:22 0:34 0:48 1:02 1:18 1:36 1:55 2:17 2:42 3:10 3:45 4:29 5:27 6:56 10:05 12:00*
40 12.2 200 Repetitive Z O N M L K J I H G F E D C B A
50 15.2 100 Dive Depth NEW GROUP DESIGNATION
60 18.2 60 feet /meters
10 3.0 ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** 797 279 159 88 39
70 21.3 50 20 6.1 ** ** ** ** ** ** 917 399 279 208 159 120 88 62 39 18
80 24.4 40 30 9.1 ** ** 469 349 279 229 190 159 132 109 88 70 54 39 25 12
40 12.2 257 241 213 187 161 138 116 101 87 73 61 49 37 25 17 7
90 27.4 30 50 15.2 169 160 142 124 111 99 87 76 66 56 47 38 29 21 13 6
100 30.5 25 60 18.2 122
70 21.3 100
110 33.5 20 80 24.4 84 80 73 68 61 54 48 43 38 32 28 23 18 13 8 4
120 36.6 15 90 27.4 73
100 30.5 64
33 29 24 20 16 11 7 3
30 26 22 18 14 10 7 3
130 39.6 10 110 33.5 57 55 51 47 42 38 34 31 27 24 20 16 13 10 6 3
140 42.7 10 120 36.6 52 50 46 43 39 35 32 28 25 21 18 15 12 9 6 3
130 39.6 46 44 40 38 35 31 28 25 22 19 16 13 11 8 6 3
150 45.7 5 140 42.7 42 40 38 35 32 29 26 23 20 18 15 12 10 7 5 2
160 48.8 5 150 45.7 40 38 35 32 30 27 24 22 19 17 14 12 9 7 5 2
160 48.8 37 36 33 31 28 26 23 20 18 16 13 11 9 6 4 2
170 51.8 5 170 51.8 35 34 31 29 26 24 22 19 17 15 13 10 8 6 4 2
180 54.8 5 180 54.8 32 31 29 27 25 22 20 18 16 14 12 10 8 6 4 2
190 59.9 31 30 28 26 24 21 19 17 15 13 11 10 8 6 4 2
190 59.9 5
Residual Nitrogen Times (Minutes)

: :

Schedule Schedule
Used Used

50Õ/:40 50Õ/:100

Answer to Practice Problem 6

at 11:55 am—and surface in time to avoid the fore- The answer appears in Figure 4.22.
cast afternoon storm.
Figure 4.22 reveals:
Practice Problem 6: • Start by determining the maximum allowable Equiva-
Following is a practice problem to show how to deter- lent Single Dive Time (ESDT) for a repetitive dive to
mine a minimum allowable Surface Interval: 50 fsw. This is the No-Decompression Limit for this
depth, or 100 minutes.
In a variation on earlier problems, the divemaster not • Next, deduct the planned maximum Actual Bottom
only wants dive team #3 to inspect the anchor they dis- Time (ABT) of 75 minutes from the maximum allow-
covered on their first dive of the day but, if serviceable, able ESDT. Doing so reveals that the Residual Nitro-
tie a line to it for retrieval. Further, the divemaster wants gen Time (RNT) for the second dive must be equal to
the divers to do so as soon as possible, so that the vessel or less than 25 minutes.
can then proceed to its next assignment. The divers • Consulting Table 4, a Repetitive Group Designation
know that the depth for this dive will not exceed 50 fsw. of C will give them a RNT of 21 minutes for a depth
They also know from previous experience that, if the of 50 fsw—the closest they can get to the desired RNT
anchor is still useable, they will need approximately one of 25 minutes, without exceeding it.
hour, 15 minutes (:75) to inspect and prepare the anchor • Finally, examine Table 4 to find the minimum
for recovery. With this in mind, how soon can they re- amount of time the divers must wait to get from Letter
enter the water? Group F to Letter Group C. This turns out to be two

Air Diving and Decompression 4-17



Contrary to Logic

hours, 29 minutes, putting them back in the water at Two methods a diver can use to deal with these situation
1:23 pm. follow:

4.3.9 Exceptions to Normal Repetitive Dive Planning • One approach is to simply ignore the apparent
There is a notable exception to normal U.S. Navy Dive anomaly and continue to use the U.S. Navy Dive
Table planning procedures that may be applicable when mak- Tables exactly as designed. Doing so does not
ing a repetitive dive to the same depth or deeper than the previ- increase the overall risk and actually adds a degree
ous one, with a relatively short Surface Interval between the of conservatism to a second dive. It does, however,
two. An example of just such a situation appears in Figure 4.23. diminish some additional bottom time.
• The other approach is to ignore the Residual Nitro-
Figure 4.23 reveals: gen Time (RNT) that Table 2 gives, and use the
• Begin by making a 60-foot dive with an Actual Bottom shorter Actual Bottom Time (ABT) from the first
Time (ABT) of 30 minutes. Upon surfacing from this dive in its place. When doing so the diver is, in
dive, Table 3 indicates the Repetitive Group Designa- essence, considering both dives to be the same as
tion (Letter Group) is F. one long dive to the same depth, with the Actual
• Before making the second dive, the divers spend a Sur- Bottom Times from each dive added together.
face Interval of 30 minutes off-gassing. According to
Table 4, the Letter Group at the beginning of the second Bear in mind, this exception is only applicable when mak-
dive will still be F. ing a repetitive dive to the same depth or deeper than the dive
• Consulting Table 4 (the lower portion), the Residual preceding it (see Section on Reverse Profile Dives).
Nitrogen Time (RNT) for a depth of 60 fsw is 36 min-
utes. 4.3.10 Dealing With Surface Intervals of Less Than
Ten Minutes
This appears to be contrary to logic. What the tables A somewhat similar situation to the one just outlined
appear to be saying is that, after diving to 60 fsw for 30 arises when making dives that are less than ten minutes
minutes, then off-gassing for an additional 30 minutes at apart. Notice that Table 4 does not provide information for
the surface, the amount of excess nitrogen remaining in tis- Surface Intervals of less than ten minutes. This is because the
sues is roughly the same as it would be had the divers spent U.S. Navy Dive Tables consider dives that are less than ten
more time under water than they actually did. How can minutes apart to be part of the same dive. Thus, add the
this be? Actual Bottom Times from both dives together, and consider
The answer is that the U.S. Navy Dive Tables are the deepest depth reached during either portion of the dive to
designed primarily for dives to varying depths, with longer be the maximum depth for the combined dive.
Surface Intervals in between them than this example depicts. In general, however, experts recommend against this
When making dives to comparable depths, with short Sur- sort of “bounce” diving, as it may increase the risk of
face Intervals between them, this apparent anomaly appears. decompression sickness (DCS). Instead, whenever feasible,

4-18 NOAA Diving Manual

divers should remain at the surface for as long as possible ascent, even though the U.S. Navy Dive Tables do not
between dives. require them. NOAA “no-stop” dive procedures recom-
mends the divers make a safety stop of three to five min-
4.4 USING THE U.S. NAVY DIVE utes in the range of 10 to 20 fsw, nominally 15 fsw, for all
TABLES TO MAKE STAGED no-stop dives conducted 60 fsw or deeper, plus all repeti-
tive dives. The safety stop has been shown experimentally
DECOMPRESSION DIVES to reduce the level of ultrasonically-detected bubbles, and
There are also U.S. Navy decompression tables cover- should therefore, reduce the likelihood of decompression
ing dives that exceed the No-Decompression Limits sickness. In any event, the safety stop also requires the
(NDLs) and which require divers to stop at predetermined diver to have good buoyancy control in order to slow the
depths during ascent to decompress. Although the majority ascent before surfacing and this is an all-around safety fac-
of dives conducted by NOAA divers do not involve staged tor. Time spent at a safety stop is not part of bottom time
decompression, it is important to understand how to do so, or SIT and does not affect the divers repetitive group letter
as a contingency procedure for unforeseen circumstances. designation following the dive.
Note that most electronic dive timers record dive
4.4.1 What Is Decompression? time from the time the diver enters the water to the time
The word “decompression” has two different mean- the diver surfaces without separating bottom time and
ings in diving. The first is the dictionary definition, the sec- ascent time. Therefore, the diver should note the time
ond is the act of doing it in a controlled way. leaving the bottom for the ascent. The ascent time and
The dictionary definition of decompression is the reduc- safety stop time are not included in total bottom time.
tion of pressure or release from compression. In the context However, if the diver neglects to record when he actually
of a pressure vessel, this meaning is more or less obvious, left the bottom, then bottom time can be assumed to be
reducing the pressure is decompressing the vessel. It might the total dive time. This will make the repetitive group
well be called depressurizing. In the context of a diver letter designation more conservative.
ascending, the ascent takes the diver to a place where the
pressure is lower, and this too is decompressing. Decompres- Mandatory Decompression Stops: These are stops that
sion is something that occurs on the ascent from every dive. are required by the tables. Depending on the dive schedule,
However, although divers occasionally use the word as mandatory decompression may entail remaining at a depth
defined, they also use the word “decompression” to mean of 10 fsw for just a few minutes—or it may require that
the release or reduction of pressure in a controlled or divers make stops at deeper depths as well, and that the time
planned way to avoid bubble formation and decompres- divers must remain at these stops be substantially longer.
sion sickness (DCS). The latter is an outcome of decom-
pression when the pressure release is not done properly.
4.4.2 Decompression Diving Considerations
So, it is in the best interest of the submerged diver to
There is no such thing as a casual decompression dive;
“decompress” in order to reach surface pressure. “Decom-
it requires additional planning and considerations above
pression” in this sense means the diver is required to follow
that required for no-decompression dives. Dives requiring
a specific time, depth, and breathing gas profile. This pro-
mandatory decompression stops:
file, which may be called a decompression table or decom-
pression schedule, is designed to allow a diver to ascend to
the surface without incidence or symptoms. It may involve Entail Greater Risk:
stops, or only require a specific ascent rate without stops. As will be discussed later in this section, experts
The process of ascending to the surface is decompres- believe that remaining well within the No-Decompression
sion in both senses. Ascending without stops is still decom- Limits helps reduce the risk of decompression sickness
pressing. The important point is that every ascent is a (DCS). In contrast, experts generally believe that dives that
decompression. Further, every dive of any consequence exceed these limits—even when participants make the
involves a certain decompression obligation. As far as div- required decompression stops—pose a substantially greater
ing is concerned, decompression can include: risk of DCS.

Ascents: Because the ambient pressure decreases dur- Have Substantially Greater Logistical Requirements:
ing ascent, ascents are a form of decompression. Slow Making dives that require stage decompression
ascents generally result in the formation of fewer gas bub- entails considerably more in the way of equipment and
bles in body tissues than faster ascents do. This is why the support than no-decompression dives. Among these
U.S. Navy Dive Tables require an ascent rate of no more requirements:
than 30 feet per minute.
• Participants must ensure that they not only have suf-
Precautionary Decompression Stops: Commonly ficient breathing gas for the dive itself, but also for
known as “safety stops,” these are stops made during the necessary decompression stops.

Air Diving and Decompression 4-19

• The breathing gas used during the dive is generally Example 7:
not the best possible media to breathe during decom- Here is an example of just such a situation.
pression. This may necessitate having a separate gas
supply (usually oxygen or an oxygen-rich gas mix- Dive team #3 plans a repetitive dive to 60 fsw. They base
ture) for decompression. their dive plan on the assumption that their Actual Bottom
• Participants must be able to maintain specific depths Time (ABT) and Residual Nitrogen Time (RNT) together
during decompression. This may involve the use of will not exceed the U.S. Navy No-Decompression Limit
ascent lines, decompression bars or platforms, lift or (NDL) for 60 fsw which is 60 minutes. Just prior to ascend-
marking bags, etc. ing, however, the divers decide to re-check their calcula-
tions. They discover—much to their horror—that they mis-
Consider the plight of divers who find themselves hav- read Table 4 and that their Total Bottom Time (TBT) for
ing to make mandatory decompression stops in open-ocean this dive is now the equivalent of having made a single dive
conditions with no prior planning or preparation: to 60 fsw for 80 minutes. This is well in excess of the 60-
minute NDL upon which they based their dive plan. Now
• They may be constantly monitoring their pressure what do they do?
gauges, hoping that their dwindling gas supply is suf- The answer appears in Figure 4.24.
ficient to complete the necessary stops.
To find this information, the divers will need to con-
• They may be struggling to maintain a constant
sult the U.S. Navy Standard Air Decompression Table 5
depth, as mandated by the tables, despite large
(see Figure 4.25 or Appendix IV). Using this table, look up
waves passing over head and lack of an ascent line
the values appearing for an 80-minute dive to a depth of
to hang on to.
between 51 and 60 fsw. Among the columns of data you
• They may also find themselves drifting in a current,
will see:
wondering when they are finally able to surface, and
whether their support vessel will be able to find them. • Time to First Stop: Based on an ascent rate of 30 feet
per minute (fpm), the ascent time from 60 ft. to 10 ft.
Decompression Dives is 1:40 minutes.
Decompression diving is rarely conducted by NOAA • Time at Stop Depth: Columns are provided for stop
scuba divers. However, there are occasions where decom- depths of up to 40 fsw. In this instance, the tables
pression dives are done; for those there are specific proce- require a 7-minute stop at 10 fsw.
dures. NOAA diving activities that exceed the limits of no- • Total Ascent Time: The total of stop time plus
stop dives are permitted only under the following conditions: ascent time is 9:00 minutes.
• Repetitive Group: The Repetitive Group Designa-
• A detailed dive plan has been approved by the NOAA tion at the end of the dive is letter group L.
Diving Safety Board.
• The project leader must demonstrate that the divemas- Armed with this information, the divers now know
ter and all members of the diving team have a thor- that they should ascend at a rate of 30 fpm to a depth of
ough knowledge of decompression and repetitive dive 10 fsw, wait there for seven minutes, then surface. Time
principles and practices. to the first stop should be one minute and 40 seconds.
• A decompression dive team must be composed of no The total time of ascent should be nine minutes. The RGD
fewer than three divers (two divers and a fully suited after surfacing will be group L. During their stop, the divers
standby diver on the surface). should keep their mouth as close to a depth of 10 fsw as
• Each participant must wear appropriate gear and ther- possible.
mal protection for the dive, including appropriate It is worth noting that, even though Table 5 provides
breathing gas cylinders, a timing device, depth gauge, end-of-dive Repetitive Group information, making additional
and have on hand a decompression schedule for the
maximum proposed depth of dive. TOTAL
• A recompression chamber should be within two hours DEPTH TIME FIRST STOP 40 30 20 10 TIME GROUP
travel time from the dive site or diving vessel, if one is
not on-site. 60 70
100 1:40 14 16:00 M
4.4.3 Making Mandatory Decompression Stops 120 1:40 26 28:00 N
As stated early, unforeseen circumstances may force a 140 1:40 39 41:00 O
diver into a decompression profile. Therefore, all divers
should know how to use the U.S. Navy Standard Air FIGURE 4.24
Decompression Tables. Answer to Example 7

4-20 NOAA Diving Manual

Table 5. U.S. Navy Standard Air Decompression Table – 1999
Depth Bottom Time Decompression stops (feet/meters) Total Repetitive
feet/meters time first stop decompression group
(min) (min:sec) 50 40 30 20 10 time
15.2 12.1 9.1 6.0 3.0 (min:sec)

40 200

12.1 250
Exceptional Exposure
360 1:00 23 24:20 **
480 1:00 41 42:20 **
720 1:00 69 70:20 **

50 100

15.2 140
200 1:20 35 36:40 O
220 1:20 40 41:40 Z
240 1:20 47 48:40 Z

60 60

18.2 100
160 1:40 48 50:00 Z
180 1:40 56 58:00 Z
200 1:20 1 69 72:00 Z

Exceptional Exposure
240 1:20 2 79 83:00 **
360 1:20 20 119 141:00 **
480 1:20 44 148 194:00 **
720 1:20 78 187 267:00 **

70 50

21.3 80
110 1:40 2 41 45:20 O
120 1:40 4 47 53:20 O
130 1:40 6 52 60:20 O
140 1:40 8 56 66:20 Z
150 1:40 9 61 72:20 Z
160 1:40 13 72 87:20 Z
170 1:40 19 79 100:20 Z
* See No-Decompression Table 3 for Repetitive Groups
** Repetitive Dives may not follow Exceptional Exposure Dives

U.S. Navy Dive Table 5ÑDepth 40 to 70 fsw

Air Diving and Decompression 4-21

Table 5. U.S. Navy Standard Air Decompression Table – 1999 (Continued)
Depth Bottom Time Decompression stops (feet/meters) Total Repetitive
feet/meters time first stop decompression group
(min) (min:sec) 50 40 30 20 10 time
15.2 12.1 9.1 6.0 3.0 (min:sec)

80 40

24.3 70
100 2:00 11 46 59:40 O
110 2:00 13 53 68:40 O
120 2:00 17 56 75:40 Z
130 2:00 19 63 84:40 Z
140 2:00 26 69 97:40 Z
150 2:00 32 77 111:40 Z

Exceptional Exposure
180 2:00 35 85 122:40 **
240 1:40 6 52 120 180:40 **
360 1:40 29 90 160 281:40 **
480 1:40 59 107 187 355:40 **
720 1:20 17 108 142 187 456:40 **

30 0 3:00
90 40
60 2:40 25 28:00 M
28.7 70
90 2:20 18 48 69:00 O
100 2:20 21 54 78:00 Z
110 2:20 24 61 88:00 Z
120 2:20 32 68 103:00 Z
130 2:00 5 36 74 118:00 Z

25 0 3:20
100 30
50 2:40 2 24 29:20 L
30.4 60
80 2:40 23 48 74:20 O
90 2:20 3 23 57 86:20 Z
100 2:20 7 23 66 99:20 Z
110 2:20 10 34 72 119:20 Z
120 2:20 12 41 78 134:20 Z

Exceptional Exposure
180 2:00 1 29 53 118 204:20 **
240 2:00 14 42 84 142 285:20 **
360 1:40 2 42 73 111 187 418:20 **
480 1:40 21 61 91 142 187 505:20 **
720 1:40 55 106 122 142 187 615:20 **
* See No-Decompression Table 3 for Repetitive Groups
** Repetitive Dives may not follow Exceptional Exposure Dives

U.S. Navy Dive Table 5ÑDepth 80 to 100 fsw

4-22 NOAA Diving Manual

dives following an exposure that requires mandatory stage • If he cannot be returned to the water within five
decompression is not advised. Experts believe that doing so minutes after surfacing, he should be placed on oxy-
might pose a substantially greater risk of decompression gen for a minimum of 60 minutes.
sickness than such dives normally would. Instead, in • If asymptomatic after breathing oxygen for 60 min-
instances in which a diver accidentally exceeds the No- utes, he should be observed for a minimum of 12
Decompression Limits, he is best off remaining out of the hours for signs and symptoms of DCS and restricted
water for at least 12 hours. from diving during this observational period.
• If symptoms occur during or after breathing oxygen
4.4.4 Omitted Decompression for 60 minutes, he should be transported (on oxy-
In situations such as an uncontrolled ascent, loss of air gen) to the nearest medical facility for treatment.
supply, bodily injury, or other emergencies, a diver may be
required to surface prematurely, without taking the NOTE
required decompression. If a diver has omitted the required If a diver is asymptomatic but unable to return to the
decompression and shows any symptom of embolism or water to complete omitted decompression, and a
decompression sickness after surfacing, immediate treat- recompression chamber is available within one hour
ment using the appropriate treatment table should be insti- travel, the diver should be transported to the cham-
tuted. Treatment in a recompression chamber is essential ber for possible treatment.
for these omitted decompression accidents. Use of Oxygen During Decompression Omitted Decompression 1 Oxygen can significantly enhance decompression.
Should a diver realize that he has exceeded the no- Decompression requirements are dictated by the uptake of
decompression limits prior to reaching the surface, and he inert gases. By breathing 100% oxygen, the inert gas gradi-
does not have access to U.S.N. Decompression Tables to ent is significantly increased, thus increasing inert gas elim-
determine required in-water decompression time, the diver ination from the body.
should take the following precautions: For example, pure oxygen can be used to shorten
decompression on the 20 and 10 fsw stops. In addition,
• Stop at 10 to 15 fsw for a minimum of 15 minutes or high oxygen content mixtures can also be used to shorten
until he reaches 300 psi in their cylinder, whichever decompression from the 30 fsw stop and deeper. Mixes
comes first. rich in oxygen have proven to substantially improve
• Once on the surface, the diver should consult the decompression outcome when used as a supplemental
U.S. Navy Standard Air Decompression Tables to decompression gas from both air and nitrox dives.
see if the amount of time spent at 10–15 feet met or
exceeded the amount of decompression time 4.5 DEALING WITH CHANGES IN
required by the Tables. ALTITUDE
• If the time spent at 10–15 feet did not equal or The U.S. Navy Dive Tables make the following
exceed the required time, the diver should be placed assumptions regarding altitude:
on oxygen for a minimum of 30 minutes, observed,
and restricted from diving for 12 hours. • The altitude at the surface of the water in which the
• If symptoms occur during or after breathing oxy- dive is made is no more than 1,000 ft. (305 m) above
gen for 30 minutes, he should be transported (on sea level.
oxygen) to the nearest medical facility for treat- • For at least 12 hours following any dive, the divers
ment. will remain at an altitude no higher than 1,000 ft.
above sea level. Omitted Decompression 2
Should a diver not realize that he has exceeded the no- Whenever a dive is made at altitudes more than 1,000 ft.
decompression limits prior to reaching the surface, or he above sea level, or travel to such an altitude following a dive,
has insufficient gas to perform in-water decompression, he there are additional factors to take into consideration.
should take the following precautions:
4.5.1 Diving at Altitude
• Proceed to the surface at a normal rate of ascent. When a dive is performed in a body of water at an alti-
• Once on the surface, he should notify the divemaster tude well above sea level, several things are different, and
of omitted decompression. some of these must be considered in planning the decompres-
• If asymptomatic, and he can be returned safely to sion. First, the barometric or ambient pressure at the surface
the water within five minutes after surfacing, he of the lake (dam) is less than that at sea level. The surface
should return to the depth of the missed decompres- acts as the reference point for tables, and since that pressure
sion stops (with a dive buddy) and remain for 1 1/2 is different, some compensation is needed in using standard
times the required decompression stop time. air or nitrox decompression tables. The relative change in

Air Diving and Decompression 4-23

pressure on descent in the water will be greater than as sea Example:
level, requiring the tables to be adjusted for altitude. A NOAA diver makes a no-decompression dive at an
Because of the reduced atmospheric pressure, dives altitude of 5,000 ft. and wants to perform a precautionary
conducted at altitude require more decompression than safety stop at 20 fsw. Stop depth used at altitude is then:
identical dives conducted at sea level. Standard air decom-
pression tables, therefore, cannot be used as written. Some Altitude Stop Depth (fsw) =
organizations calculate specific decompression tables for 20 fsw × 12.23 psi = 16.6 fsw
use at each altitude. An alternative approach is to correct 14.7 psi
the altitude dive to obtain an equivalent sea level dive, then
To simplify calculations, Table 4.1 gives corrected sea
determine the decompression requirement using standard
level equivalent depths and equivalent stops depths for
tables. This procedure is commonly known as the “Cross
dives from 10-190 ft and for altitudes from 1,000 to 10,000
Correction” technique and always yields a sea level dive
ft in 1,000 ft. increments.
that is deeper than the actual dive at altitude. A deeper sea
level equivalent dive provides the extra decompression Need for Correction
needed to offset effects of diving at altitude. No correction is required for dives conducted at alti-
tudes between sea level and 300 ft. The additional risk Altitude Correction Procedure associated with these dives is minimal. At altitudes
To apply the “Cross Correction” technique, the actual between 300 and 1,000 ft., correction is required for dives
dive depth must first be corrected to determine the sea level deeper than 145 fsw (actual depth). At altitudes above
equivalent depth. Strictly speaking, ascent rate should also 1,000 ft., correction is required for all dives.
be corrected, but this correction can safely be ignored. Depth Measurement at Altitude Correction of Depth of Dive The preferred method for measuring depth at altitude
Though fresh water is less dense than sea water, all dives is a mechanical or electronic gauge that can be re-zeroed at
will be assumed to be conducted in sea water, thus no correc- the dive site. Once re-zeroed, no further correction of the
tions will be made based on water salinity. Enter Table 4.1 reading is required.
directly with the depth indicated on the line or fathometer. Most mechanical depth gauges carried by divers have
Depth of a sea level equivalent dive is determined by a sealed one-atmosphere reference and cannot be adjusted
multiplying the depth of the dive at altitude by a ratio of for altitude, thus they will read low throughout a dive at
atmospheric pressure at sea level (14.7 psi) to atmospheric altitude. A correction factor of 1 fsw for every 1,000 ft. of
pressure at altitude (see Table 4.2). Using pounds per altitude should be added to the reading of a sealed refer-
square inch (psi) as a unit for expressing atmospheric pres- ence gauge before entering Table 4.1.
sure at altitude equivalent depth is then: A sounding line or fathometer may be used to measure
the depth if a suitable depth gauge is not available. These
Equivalent Depth (fsw) =
devices measure the linear distance below the surface of
Pressure at Sea Level (psi)
Altitude Depth (fsw) × the water, not the water pressure.
Pressure at Altitude (psi)

Example: Correction of Depth Gauges

A diver makes a dive to 60 fsw at an altitude of 5,000 Neither oil-filled nor capillary depth gauges provide
ft. Using Table 4.2 we find that the atmospheric pressure accurate depth indications when used at altitude. Oil-filled
measured at 5,000 ft. is 12.23 psia. Atmospheric pressure depth gauges are designed to read 0 ft. at a pressure of one
at sea level is 14.7 psi. Sea level equivalent depth is then: ata. At reduced atmospheric pressure, the gauge will read less
than zero (unless there is a pin that stops the needle at zero);
Equivalent Depth (fsw) =
in the water, such a gauge will give a reading that is shallow-
14.7 psi
60 fsw × = 72.1 fsw er than the actual depth. The depth readings can be corrected
12.23 psi by adding a depth that is equal to the difference between the Correction for Decompression Stop Depths atmospheric pressure at the altitude site and one ata. Table
4.2 shows mean atmospheric pressures at various altitudes
Depth of the corrected stop at altitude is calculated by
and the corrections necessary for oil-filled gauges.
multiplying depth of a sea level equivalent stop by a ratio
Because of the reduced density of the air trapped in the
of atmospheric pressure at altitude to atmospheric pressure
capillary gauge at altitude, less water pressure is required
at sea level. [Note: This ratio is inverse to the ratio in the
than at sea level to compress the air to a given volume. As
formula above.]
a result, the capillary gauge will indicate a depth greater
Altitude Stop Depth (fsw) = than the actual depth. Because of the question about the
Pressure at Altitude (psi) accuracy of these gauges, a measured downline should be
Sea Level Stop Depth (fsw) × Pressure at Sea Level (psi)

4-24 NOAA Diving Manual

Sea Level Equivalent Depth (fsw)

Actual Depth Altitude (feet)

(fsw) 1,000 2,000 3,000 4,000 5,000 6,000 7,000 8,000 9,000 10,000
10 10 15 15 15 15 15 15 15 15 15
15 15 20 20 20 20 20 20 25 25 25
20 20 25 25 25 25 25 30 30 30 30
25 25 30 30 30 35 35 35 35 35 40
30 30 35 35 35 40 40 40 50 50 50
35 35 40 40 50 50 50 50 50 50 60
40 40 50 50 50 50 50 60 60 60 60
45 45 50 60 60 60 60 60 70 70 70
50 50 60 60 60 70 70 70 70 70 80
55 55 60 70 70 70 70 80 80 80 80
60 60 70 70 70 80 80 80 90 90 90
65 65 70 80 80 80 90 90 90 100 100
70 70 80 80 90 90 90 100 100 100 110
75 75 90 90 90 100 100 100 110 110 110
80 80 90 90 100 100 100 110 110 120 120
85 85 100 100 100 110 110 120 120 120 130
90 90 100 110 110 110 120 120 130 130 140
95 95 110 110 110 120 120 130 130 140 140
100 100 110 120 120 130 130 130 140 140 150
105 105 120 120 130 130 140 140 150 150 160
110 110 120 130 130 140 140 150 150 160 160
115 115 130 130 140 140 150 150 160 170 170
120 120 130 140 140 150 150 160 170 170 180
125 125 140 140 150 160 160 170 170 180 190
130 130 140 150 160 160 170 170 180 190 190
135 135 150 160 160 170 170 180 190 190 200
140 140 160 160 170 170 180 190 190 200 210
145 145 160 170 170 180 190 190 200 210
150 160 170 170 180 190 190 200 210
155 170 170 180 180 190 200 210
160 170 180 180 190 200 200
165 180 180 190 200 200
170 180 190 190 200
175 190 190 200
180 190 200 210
185 200 200
190 200

Note: Numbers below this bar are Exceptional Exposure Limits

Water Stops Equivalent Stop Depths (fsw)

10 10 9 9 9 8 8 8 7 7 7
20 19 19 18 17 17 16 15 15 14 14
30 29 28 27 26 25 24 23 22 21 21
40 39 37 36 35 33 32 31 30 29 28
50 48 47 45 43 42 40 39 37 36 34
60 58 56 54 52 50 48 46 45 43 41

Air Diving and Decompression 4-25 Hypoxia During Altitude Diving TABLE 4.2
A diver surfacing from an altitude dive is moving from Pressure Variations with Altitude
a breathing gas in which the oxygen partial pressure is rela-
Altitude, Pressure, Pressure, Pressure, Repetitive Oil-filled
tively high to an atmosphere in which it is low. As a result, ft mmHg psi atm* Group Gauge
Correction, ft
the diver may experience symptoms of hypoxia and breath- 0 760.0 14.70 1.000 0
ing difficulty for a period after the dive. 1000 732.9 14.17 0.964 A 1.22
2000 706.7 13.67 0.930 B 2.37
3000 681.2 13.17 0.896 B 3.53 Altitude Sickness 4000 656.4 12.70 0.864 C 4.61
5000 632.4 12.23 0.832 D 5.70
This is a real problem above 13,125 ft. (4,003 m), 6000 609.1 11.78 0.801 E 6.75
although it has been known to occur as low as 8,093 ft. 7000 586.5 11.35 0.772 E 7.73
8000 584.6 10.92 0.743 F 8.72
(2,468 m). Altitude sickness can be prevented with proper 9000 543.3 10.51 0.715 G 9.67
acclimatization. All divers on high-altitude dives should be 10000 522.8 10.11 0.588 H 10.58
11000 502.8 9.73 0.662 11.47
familiar with the symptoms and treatment of altitude sick- 12000 483.5 9.35 0.636 12.35
ness (Hackett 1988). Most divers will not find themselves 13000 464.8 8.99 0.612 13.15
14000 446.6 8.64 0.588 13.98
under these conditions. 15000 429.1 8.31 0.565 14.76
16000 412.1 7.97 0.542 15.54
17000 395.7 7.66 0.521 16.25 Breathing Gases 18000 379.8 7.35 0.500 16.96
19000 364.4 7.04 0.479 17.67
Seek expert guidance on the use of compressed air and 20000 349.5 6.76 0.461 18.28
other breathing gases at high altitude. Pure oxygen has * U.S. standard atmosphere.
been used successfully during no-stop decompression div-
ing at 6,000 m altitude. The probable advantages of nitrox
have not yet been fully explored, but use of nitrox and Solution:
standard air tables corrected for altitude should introduce From Table 4.2, repetitive group upon arrival at 6,000
an extra level of safety. Special altitude nitrox tables can be ft. is Group E. During 90 minutes at altitude, the diver will
calculated from variable gas-mixture algorithms. Allow for desaturate to Group D (Appendix IV, Table 4). From
expansion of the gas with decreasing atmospheric pressure Table 4.1, sea level equivalent depth for a 100 ft. dive is
if filling is carried out substantially lower than the dive. 130 fsw. From Table 4, Appendix IV, residual nitrogen
time for a 130 fsw dive in Group D is 11 minutes. The Equilibration at Altitude diver should add 11 minutes to bottom time.
Upon ascent to altitude, two things happen. The body Table 4.3 can also be used when a diver who is fully
off-gases excess nitrogen to come into equilibrium with the equilibrated at one altitude ascends to and dives at a
lower partial pressure of nitrogen in the atmosphere. It also higher altitude. Enter Table 4.2 with the difference
begins a series of complicated adjustments to the lower between the two altitudes to determine an initial repeti-
partial pressure of oxygen. The first process is called equili- tive group.
bration; the second is called acclimatization. Twelve hours
at altitude is required for equilibration. A longer period is Example:
required for full acclimatization. Divers equilibrated at a base camp altitude of 6,000 ft.,
If a diver begins a dive at altitude less than 12 hours fly by helicopter to the dive site at 10,000 ft. What would be
after arrival, the residual nitrogen left over from sea level the starting repetitive group letter upon arrival at 10,000 feet?
must be taken into account. In effect, the initial dive at alti-
tude can be considered a repetitive dive, with the first dive Solution:
being the ascent from sea level to altitude.Table 4.2 gives The difference between the altitudes is 4,000 ft.
the repetitive group associated with an initial ascent to alti- Entering Table 4.2 at 4,000 feet, the initial repetitive
tude. Using this group and the time at altitude before div- group to be used at 10,000 ft. is Group C.
ing, enter the Residual Nitrogen Timetable for Repetitive
Air Dives (see Appendix IV, Table 4) to determine a new WARNING
repetitive group designator associated with that period of DIVING AT ALTITUDES ABOVE 10,000 FEET
equilibration. Determine sea level equivalent depth for the IMPOSES SERIOUS STRESS ON THE BODY AND
planned dive using Table 4.1. From the new repetitive IS STRONGLY DISCOURAGED.
group and sea level equivalent depth, determine the resid-
ual nitrogen time associated with the dive. Add this time to Example:
the actual bottom time of the dive. Five hours after arriving at an altitude of 7,750 ft.,
divers make a 20-minute air dive to 62 ft. Depth was
Example: measured with a boat-mounted pneumofathometer and
A diver ascends to 6,000 ft. in a helicopter and verified. The U.S. Navy No-Decompression Tables will
begins a dive to 100 ft. 90 minutes later. How much be used for decompression. What is the proper decom-
residual nitrogen time should be added to the dive? pression schedule?

4-26 NOAA Diving Manual

Solution: Ascent to altitude after diving increases the risk of decom-
The altitude is first rounded up to 8,000 ft. Table 4.1 pression sickness because of the additional reduction in
is entered at depth of 65 ft. The Sea Level Equivalent atmospheric pressure. The higher the altitude, the greater the
Depth for 8,000 ft. of altitude is 90 fsw. The repetitive risk. (Pressurized commercial airline flights are addressed in
group upon arrival at altitude is Group F (see Table 4.2). Note 3 of Table 4.3).
This decays to Group B during the five hours at altitude Table 4.3 gives the surface interval (hours:minutes)
predive (see Table 4, Appendix IV). The residual nitrogen required before making a further ascent to altitude. The sur-
time for Group B at 90 fsw is seven minutes. The Equiva- face interval depends on the planned increase in altitude and
lent Single Dive Time therefore is 27 minutes. The appro- the highest repetitive group designator obtained in the previ-
priate decompression schedule from the U.S. Navy Sur- ous 24-hour period. Enter the table with the highest repetitive
face Decompression Table is 90 fsw for 30 minutes. The group designator obtained in the previous 24-hour period.
repetitive group designation at the end of the dive will be Read the required surface interval from the column for the
letter H. planned change in altitude. Repetitive Dives Example:

Repetitive dives may be conducted at altitude. The A diver surfaces from a 60 ft. for 60 minutes no-decom-
procedure is identical to that at sea level, with the excep- pression dive at sea level in Repetitive Group J. After a sur-
tion that the sea level equivalent dive depth is always face interval of six hours ten minutes, the diver makes a sec-
used to replace the actual dive depth. ond dive to 30 ft. for 20 minutes placing him in Repetitive
Group C. He plans to fly home in a commercial aircraft in
Example: which the cabin pressure is controlled at 8,000 ft. What is the
Fourteen hours after ascending to an altitude of required surface interval before flying?
4,850 ft., divers make a dive to 82 ft. for 20 minutes
using the U.S. Navy No-Decompression Tables. Depth Solution:
was measured prior to the dive with a sounding line. The planned increase in altitude is 8,000 ft. Because
After two hours and ten minutes on the surface, they the diver has made two dives in the previous 24-hour peri-
make a second dive to 75 ft. for 20 minutes and decom- od, he must use the highest Repetitive Group Designator
press on the Standard Decompression Table. What is the obtained during the two dives which was J. Enter Table 4.3
proper decompression schedule for the second dive? at 8,000 ft. and read down to Repetitive Group J. The
diver must wait 17 hours and 35 minutes after completion
of the second dive before flying.
The altitude is first rounded up to 5,000 ft. Table 4.1
is entered at a depth of 85 ft. The Sea Level Equivalent
Upon completion of a dive at an altitude of 4,000 ft., the
Depth for the first dive is 110 fsw. Since the dive was
diver plans to ascend to 7,500 ft. in order to cross a mountain
conducted more than 12 hours after arriving at altitude,
pass. The diver’s repetitive group upon surfacing is Group G.
no residual nitrogen needs to be added to the bottom
What is the required surface interval before crossing the pass?
time. The repetitive group designation upon completion
of the 20 minute dive is Group G. This decays to Group
D during the two hours ten minutes surface interval.
The planned increase in altitude is 3,500 ft (7,500–4,000
The depth of the second dive is 75 ft. Table 4.1 is
ft.). Enter Table 4.3 at 4,000 ft. (rounded up from 3,500 ft.)
entered at an actual depth of 75 ft. The Sea Level Equiva- and read down to Repetitive Group G. The diver must delay
lent Depth for the second dive is 100 fsw. The residual one hour and 23 minutes before crossing the pass.
nitrogen time for Group D at 100 is 14 minutes. The equiv-
alent single dive time therefore is 34 minutes. The appro- Example:
priate decompression schedule from the Standard Decom- Upon completion of a dive at 2,000 ft., the diver
pression Table is 100 fsw for 40 min. A 15-minute stop at plans to fly home in an unpressurized aircraft at 5,000 ft.
ten ft. is required by the schedule. Table 4.1 is consulted to The diver’s repetitive group designator upon surfacing is
determine the altitude stop depth for 10 fsw, which is 8 ft. Group K. What is the required surface interval before
The ending group is letter K. flying? Ascent to Altitude After Diving/ Solution:

Flying After Diving The planned increase in altitude is 3,000 ft. (5,000–2,000
Leaving the dive site may require temporary ascent to a ft.). Enter Table 4.3 at 3,000 ft. and read down to Repetitive
higher altitude. For example, divers may drive over a moun- Group K. The diver must delay six hours and 25 minutes
tain pass at higher altitude or leave the dive site by air. before taking the flight.

Air Diving and Decompression 4-27

Required Surface Interval Before Ascent to Altitude After Diving

Repetitive Altitude
Designator 1,000 2,000 3,000 4,000 5,000 6,000 7,000 8,000 9,000 10,000
A 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:00
B 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:00 2:11
C 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:00 3:06 8:26
D 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:09 3:28 7:33 12:52
E 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:51 3:35 6:54 10:59 16:18
F 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:00 1:12 3:40 6:23 9:43 13:47 19:07
G 0:00 0:00 0:00 1:23 3:34 6:02 8:46 12:05 16:10 21:29
H 0:00 0:00 1:31 3:26 5:37 8:05 10:49 14:09 18:13 23:33
I 0:00 1:32 3:20 5:15 7:26 9:54 12:38 15:58 20:02 24:00
J 1:32 3:09 4:57 6:52 9:04 11:32 14:16 17:35 21:39 24:00
K 3:00 4:37 6:25 8:20 10:32 13:00 15:44 19:03 23:07 24:00
L 4:21 5:57 7:46 9:41 11:52 14:20 17:04 20:23 24:00 24:00
M 5:35 7:11 9:00 10:55 13:06 15:34 18:18 21:37 24:00 24:00
N 6:43 8:20 10:08 12:03 14:14 16:42 19:26 22:46 24:00 24:00
O 7:47 9:24 11:12 13:07 15:18 17:46 20:30 23:49 24:00 24:00
Z 8:17 9:54 11:42 13:37 15:49 18:17 21:01 24:00 24:00 24:00

Exceptional Exposure Wait 48 hours before flying

NOTE 1 When using Table 4-3, use the highest repetitive group designator obtained in the previous 24-hour

NOTE 2 Table 4-3 may only be used when the maximum altitude achieved is 10,000 ft. or less. For ascents
above 10,000 ft., consult NOAA Diving Program for guidance.

NOTE 3 The cabin pressure in commercial aircraft is maintained at a constant value regardless of the actual
altitude of the flight. Though cabin pressure varies somewhat with aircraft type, the nominal value is
8,000 feet to compute the required surface interval before flying.

NOTE 4 No surface interval is required before taking a commercial flight if the dive site is at 8,000 ft. or higher.
In this case, flying results in an increase in atmospheric pressure rather than a decrease.

NOTE 5 No repetitive group is given for air dives with surface decompression on oxygen or air. For these
surface decompression dives, enter the standard air table with the sea level equivalent depth and
bottom time of the dive to obtain the appropriate repetitive group designator to be used.

NOTE 6 For ascent to altitude following a non-saturation helium-oxygen dive, wait 12 hours if the dive was a
no-decompression dive. Wait 24 hours if the dive was a decompression dive.

4-28 NOAA Diving Manual

4.6 BUILDING ADDITIONAL SAFETY only staying well within the no-decompression limits but
FACTORS INTO DIVE TABLE USAGE also avoiding minimum Surface Intervals.
The U.S. Navy Dive Tables have no magical ability to
protect users from decompression sickness. As with other 4.6.2 Making Slow Ascents and Safety Stops
dive tables and dive computers, the U.S. Navy Dive Tables As discussed earlier, slow ascents and precautionary
are based on a mathematical model designed to emulate decompression (“safety”) stops help reduce the size and
how most human bodies absorb and release nitrogen. They quantity of gas bubbles formed in body tissues as divers
cannot take into account the wide range of human body ascend. Many researchers believe that such asymptomatic
and tissue types, nor the factors that may make a particular or “silent” bubbles are a precursor to decompression sick-
diver more or less susceptible to decompression sickness ness and that by reducing the size and quantity of such
(DCS) at any given time. Researchers still know surprising- bubbles, we help reduce the risk of DCS.
ly little about the exact causes and nature of DCS. There- To make safety stops even safer, a diver can add the
fore, it is important to remember that no dive table or dive time spent making such stops to Actual Bottom Time
computer can provide a guarantee of protection against (ABT). Doing so further increases the safety margin. It also
decompression sickness. Even when using these items cor- means that the ABT will more closely match the time
rectly, there is always a risk of DCS. recorded by the dive computer or automatic timing device,
Fortunately, the U.S. Navy Dive Tables have a fairly which typically records bottom time as being from the
good track record when it comes to helping divers avoid beginning of descent until the end of ascent.
DCS. Still, there are many steps experts believe can be
taken to further reduce the risk of decompression sickness. 4.6.3 Taking Advantage of the Dive Table’s Inherent
This section discusses several of these steps. Margin of Safety on Multi-Level Dives
The U.S. Navy Dive Tables are based on the assump-
4.6.1 Remaining Well Within No-Decompression tion that users will make what are known as square pro-
and Other Limits file dives—dives in which participants descend almost
Many experts believe that the closer one comes to immediately to their maximum depth and remain at this
the no-decompression limits, the greater the risk of DCS. depth until beginning their ascent.
For this reason, wise divers choose to remain well within Many dives, however, are what are known as multi-
dive table or dive computer limits. Several recreational level dives—in which participants will be at a variety of
diver training organizations go so far as to publish dive depths throughout the dive. Dive computers automati-
tables with no-decompression limits that are more con- cally account for multi-level diving, providing computer
servative than those of the U.S. Navy. users with no additional margin of safety. Dive tables, in
Earlier in this section, examples were presented of how contrast, assume that the deepest depth reached during
one would go about finding the minimum allowable Surface the dive was the actual depth for the entire dive. Thus,
Interval between dives. Bear in mind, however, that the divers who make multi-level dives, yet use the U.S.
examples provided were based on extenuating circum- Navy or similar dive tables correctly, may enjoy an
stances. Wise divers avoid “pushing” dive table or dive com- additional margin of safety that computer users do not
puter limits unless absolutely necessary. This involves not (see Figure 4.26).

DIRECT ASCENT AT NO MORE Reverse Profile Dives

A reverse profile can refer to a series of repetitive
dives during which the deepest dive is not the first in the
series, or to a single multi-level dive during which the
diver goes deeper after completing a shallower phase.
There is no convincing evidence that reverse dive

profiles within the no-decompression limits subject a


diver to a measurable increase in the risk of DCS.


Reverse profile dives should be conducted within the


following parameters:


• No-decompression dives in less than 130 fsw (40


• Depth differentials of less than 40 fsw (12 msw)
Regardless of the dive profile, it is safest to be in the
FIGURE 4.26 shallowest phase late in the dive when air supplies are
Actual Dive Profile Versus an Assumed Dive Profile low.

Air Diving and Decompression 4-29

4.6.4 Following Recommendations Concerning Cold 4.7.1 General
and Arduous Dives The NOAA No-Decompression Charts are based upon
Unfortunately, many research and other working dives the U.S. Navy Air Decompression Tables and presented in a
fall into the category of square-profile diving, and thus fail format designed by the National Association of Underwater
to afford dive-table users the additional margin of safety Instructors (NAUI) for recreational diving. The charts are
they enjoy when making multi-level dives. Additionally, configured so that each of three charts flows into the next.
such dives often take place in cold water and require divers You begin with Chart 1, which is called the “Dive Times
to exert themselves—both factors that experts believe may with End-of-Dive Group Letter” chart. Chart 1 provides
contribute to the onset of decompression sickness. maximum dive time information for dives between 40 and
Under these circumstances, divers should follow the 130 ft. (12–40 m) and the group letter designation at the end
U.S. Navy’s recommendation for cold/arduous dives; of a dive. Look at Chart 1 (see Table 4.5) and note that max-
that is, consider that the dive has been made to the next imum times are circled for each depth.
greater time increment appearing on the tables. Chart 1 is entered horizontally from the left. The num-
For example, a dive is made to a depth of 65 fsw for bers on the chart represent bottom time in minutes. Find the
40 minutes in 48°F water temperature. Normally decom- row for the appropriate depth and move to the right along
pression would be based on a 70 fsw/40 minutes sched- the line until you find a bottom time that meets or exceeds
ule. However, because of the cold water temperature, your dive time. Now follow that column downward, exit the
decompression is based on 70 fsw/45 minutes schedule. chart, and find the group letter designation that indicates the
amount of nitrogen remaining in your system following a
4.6.5 Managing Additional Risk Factors That May dive. For example, a person who dives to 50 ft. (15 m) for 30
Contribute to Decompression Sickness minutes would have an “E” group letter designation.
There are additional factors that experts believe may The longer you remain out of the water, the more
contribute to the risk of DCS over which divers have excess nitrogen you eliminate. Crediting you with the loss
control. It makes sense to manage these risks intelligent- of that nitrogen is the purpose of Chart 2, (see Table 4.6)
ly, whenever possible. Among the ways to do so: the “Surface Interval Time” (SIT) chart. It consists of
blocks containing two numbers which represent the mini-
• Avoid factors such as cold, dehydration, and mum and maximum times for assignment to a particular
fatigue. Wise divers will wear adequate exposure group letter. The times are expressed as hours and minutes
protection both above and below the water. They (Hours:Minutes).
will drink plenty of fluids (while avoiding coffee The SIT chart is entered vertically coming down the col-
and alcohol, as these can lead to dehydration). umn from Chart 1 and followed downward until you find a
They will further plan dives in such a manner as range of times into which the length of your surface interval
to require the least possible exertion. falls. Then follow that row horizontally to the left, exit the
• Maintain a high level of personal fitness. There chart, and receive a new letter designation. For example, if
are factors that may contribute to the risk of DCS, you enter the chart with an “E” group letter and have a sur-
such as age over which we have little control, face interval of three hours, you will exit the chart on the
other than to allow additional safety margins. third horizontal line and end up with a new group letter of
Divers can control their levels of health and fit- “C.” Note that the maximum time in the chart is 12 hours,
ness. Being fit benefits divers in a number of ways. so a dive after that amount of time is not a repetitive dive.
Lean tissue absorbs less nitrogen than fat tissue. Chart 3 is the “Repetitive Dive Time.” It tells your
Increased personal fitness tends to lead to Residual Nitrogen Time (RNT) based on your current
increased respiratory efficiency, which helps in the group letter and your planned depth and provides Maxi-
off-gassing of nitrogen. Fit divers also tend to have mum Dive Times that are reduced by the amount of your
a lower overall level of carbon dioxide in their sys- RNT. Your Actual Bottom Time (ABT) must not exceed
tems at any time, further reducing the risk of the Adjusted Maximum Dive Time (AMDT). Your Resid-
DCS. ual Nitrogen Time (RNT) must be added to your ABT to
obtain your Equivalent Single Dive Time (ESDT). This
4.7 NOAA NO-DECOMPRESSION formula (RNT + ABT = ESDT) is illustrated in the upper
DIVE CHARTS left corner, see Appendix III, page III-1.
NOAA has developed an abbreviated no-decompres- To use Chart 3, (see Table 4.7) enter it horizontally
sion dive table based upon the U.S. Navy Dive Tables from the right on the row representing your group letter
titled NOAA No-Decompression Air Dive Table, see designation after your SIT and move to the left until you
Table 4.4 and Appendix III. intersect the column corresponding to the depth of your

4-30 NOAA Diving Manual



msw fsw
12 40 5 15 25 30 40 50 70 80 100 110 130 150 170 200
120 160
15 50 10 15 25 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 5 21
70 80 100
+ ABT ACTUAL BOTTOM TIME 18 60 10 15 20 25 30 40 50 55 60 2 7 14
60 70 80
ESDT EQUIVALENT SINGLE DIVE TIME 22 70 5 10 15 20 30 35 40 45 50 8 14 18
50 60 70
END-OF-DIVE 25 80 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 10 17 23
40 50 60
28 90 5 10 12 15 20 25 30 7 18 25
30 40
31 100 5 7 10 15 20 22 25 3 15
25 30
34 110 5 10 13 15 20 3 7
20 25 30
37 120 5 10 12 15 2 6 14
15 20 25
40 130 5 8 10 1 4 10

40 50 60 70 80 90 100 110 120 130 LETTER
7 6 5 4 4 3 3 3 3 3 12:00 12:00 12:00 12:00 12:00 12:00 12:00 12:00 12:00 12:00 12:00 12:00 12:00 12:00
193 94 55 46 36 27 22 17 12 7 A 0:10 3:21 4:50 5:49 6:35 7:06 7:36 8:00 8:22 8:51 8:59 9:13 9:29 9:44
17 13 11 9 8 7 7 6 6 6 3:20 4:49 5:48 6:34 7:05 7:35 7:59 8:21 8:50 8:58 9:12 9:28 9:43
183 87 49 41 32 23 18 14 9 4 B 0:10 1:40 2:39 3:25 3:58 4:26 4:50 5:13 5:41 5:49 6:03 6:19 6:33

2 C 1:39
37 29 24 20 18 16 14 13 12 11 1:09 1:57 2:28 2:58 3:20 3:43 4:02 4:19 4:35 4:49 5:03
163 71 36 30 22 14 11 7 3 0 D 0:10 0:55 1:30 2:00 2:24 2:45 3:05 3:22 3:37 3:53 4:05
49 38 30 26 23 20 18 16 15 13 0:54 1:29 1:59 2:23 2:44 3:04 3:21 3:36 3:52 4:04
151 62 30 24 17 10 7 4 0 0 E 0:10 0:46 1:16 1:42 2:03 2:21 2:39 2:54 3:09 3:23

61 47 36 31 28 24 22 20 18 16 0:45 1:15 1:41 2:02 2:20 2:38 2:53 3:08 3:22

139 53 24 19 12 6 3 0 0 0 F 0:10 0:41 1:07 1:30 1:48 2:04 2:20 2:35 2:48
73 56 44 37 32 29 26 24 21 19 0:40 1:06 1:29 1:47 2:03 2:19 2:34 2:47
127 44 16 13 8 1 0 0 0 0 G 0:10 0:37 1:00 1:20 1:36 1:50 2:06 2:19

87 66 52 43 38 33 30 27 25 22 0:36 0:59 1:19 1:35 1:49 2:05 2:18

113 34 8 7 2 0 0 0 0 0 H 0:10 0:34 0:55 1:12 1:26 1:36 1:54

101 76 61 50 43 38 34 31 28 25 0:33 0:54 1:11 1:25 1:35 1:53

99 24 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 I 0:10 0:32 0:50 1:05 1:19 1:31
116 87 70 57 48 43 38 0:31 0:49 1:04 1:18 1:30
84 13 0 0 0 0 0 J 0:10 0:29 0:46 1:00 1:12

138 99 79 64 54 47 43 0:28 0:45 0:59 1:11

62 1 0 0 0 0 0 K 0:10 0:27 0:43 0:55

161 111 88 72 61 53 48 0:26 0:42 0:54

39 0 0 0 0 0 0 L 0:10 0:26 0:40
187 124 97 80 68 58 52 0:25 0:39
13 0 0 0 0 0 0 M 0:10 0:25
213 142 107 87 73 64 57 0:24
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 N 0:10



No-Decompression Air Dive Table

Air Diving and Decompression 4-31

planned repetitive dive. Depths are listed across the top of letter you will find two numbers. The top number repre-
the chart. At the intersection of the depth and the group sents RNT for that depth; the bottom number represents
the Adjusted Maximum Dive Time (AMDT) for the depth.
If you compare the totals of the AMDT and the Residual
Nitrogen Times for any depth, you will find they all total
the Maximum Dive Time Limit for that depth in Chart 1.
msw fsw
The AMDT is found by simply subtracting RNT from
12 40 5 15 25 30 40 50 70 80 100 110 130 150 170 200 Maximum Dive Time for a given depth. Chart 3 has
120 160
15 50 10 15 25 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 5 21 already done the work for you. Your Actual Dive Time
70 80 100
18 60 10 15 20 25 30 40 50 55 60 2 7 14
must not exceed your AMDT during a repetitive Dive.
22 70 5 10 15 20 30 35 40 45 50
60 70 80 An example of the use of Chart 3 is a “C” group letter
8 14 18
50 60 70 diver planning a dive to 50 feet, you find the number 21
25 80 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 10 17 23
40 50 60
over the number 79. This means the diver has 21 minutes of
28 90 5 10 12 15 20 25 30 7 18 25 RNT and the duration of the ABT must not exceed 79 min-
30 40
31 100 5 7 10 15 20 22 25 3 15 utes. The diver proceeds with the dive, keeping the ABT
34 110 5 10 13 15 20
within the 79 minute Adjusted Maximum Dive Time, then
37 120 5 10 12 15
20 25 30 adds the ABT to the 21 minutes of RNT and uses the dive
2 6 14
15 20 25 schedule of 50 feet (15 m)/ESDT to re-enter Chart 1 and
40 130 5 8 10 1 4 10
obtain an End-of-Dive group letter. Note how the cycle has
been completed with the three charts.


40 50 60 70 80 90 100 110 120 130 LETTER
Chart 1Ñ Dive Times with End-of-Dive Group Letter
7 6 5 4 4 3 3 3 3 3
193 94 55 46 36 27 22 17 12 7 A
17 13 11 9 8 7 7 6 6 6
183 87 49 41 32 23 18 14 9 4 B
2 C
12:00 12:00 12:00 12:00 12:00 12:00 12:00 12:00 12:00 12:00 12:00 12:00 12:00 12:00
A 0:10 3:21 4:50 5:49 6:35 7:06 7:36 8:00 8:22 8:51 8:59 9:13 9:29 9:44 37 29 24 20 18 16 14 13 12 11
3:20 4:49 5:48 6:34 7:05 7:35 7:59 8:21 8:50 8:58 9:12 9:28 9:43
163 71 36 30 22 14 11 7 3 0
B 0:10 1:40 2:39 3:25 3:58 4:26 4:50 5:13 5:41 5:49 6:03 6:19 6:33
49 38 30 26 23 20 18 16 15 13
C 1:39
151 62 30 24 17 10 7 4 0 0 E
61 47 36 31 28 24 22 20 18 16
D 1:09
4:05 139 53 24 19 12 6 3 0 0 0 F
0:54 1:29 1:59 2:23 2:44 3:04 3:21 3:36 3:52 4:04
E 73 56 44 37 32 29 26 24 21 19
0:10 0:46









127 44 16 13 8 1 0 0 0 0 G
F 0:10 0:41 1:07 1:30 1:48 2:04 2:20 2:35 2:48
87 66 52 43 38 33 30 27 25 22
G 0:40
113 34 8 7 2 0 0 0 0 0 H
101 76 61 50 43 38 34 31 28 25
H 0:36
1:54 99 24 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 I
0:33 0:54 1:11 1:25 1:35 1:53
I 116 87 70 57 48 43 38
0:10 0:32
84 13 0 0 0 0 0 J
J 0:10 0:29 0:46 1:00 1:12
138 99 79 64 54 47 43
K 0:28
62 1 0 0 0 0 0 K
161 111 88 72 61 53 48
L 0:26
0:40 39 0 0 0 0 0 0 L
0:25 0:39
M 187 124 97 80 68 58 52

0:10 0:25
0:24 13 0 0 0 0 0 0 M
213 142 107 87 73 64 57


Chart 2ÑSurface Interval Time Chart 3ÑRepetitive Dive Time

4-32 NOAA Diving Manual

The NOAA Diving Manual was prepared jointly by the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce and Best
Publishing Company.

This CD-ROM product is produced and distributed by the National Technical Information
Service (NTIS), U.S. Department of Commerce.
Visit our Web site at www.ntis.gov.
Diver and Diving
Support 5


5. 0 GENERAL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5- 1 5.10 SUBMERSIBLE PRESSURE GAUGES . . . . . . 5-24
5. 1 BASIC EQUIPMENT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5- 1 5.10.1 Use of Submersible Pressure Gauge. . . . . 5-25
5.1.1 Face Masks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5- 1 5.11 BUOYANCY COMPENSATORS . . . . . . . . . . 5-26
5.1.2 Snorkels . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5- 2 5.11.1 Power Inflator Mechanisms . . . . . . . . . . 5-29
5.1.3 Fins. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5- 2 5.11.2 Maintenance of Buoyancy
5. 2 THERMAL PROTECTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5- 3 Compensators . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-29
5.2.1 Dive Skins . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5- 3 5.11.3 Weight Belts and Weights . . . . . . . . . . . 5-29
5.2.2 Wet Suits. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5- 3 5.11.4 Safety Harnesses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-30 Maintenance of Wet Suits . . . . . . 5- 4 5.11.5 Safety Harness and Bail-Out Cylinder . . . 5-31
5.2.3 Dry Suits . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5- 4 5.12 SURFACE-SUPPLIED Dry-Suit Valves. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5- 5 DIVING EQUIPMENT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-31 Dry-Suit Seals and Accessories . . . 5- 5 5.12.1 Topside Breathing Gas Source . . . . . . . . 5-31 Dry-Suit Zippers . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5- 6 5.12.2 Diver Control Manifold . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-32 Dry-Suit Use . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5- 6 5.12.3 Communication Box . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-33 Dry-Suit Underwear . . . . . . . . . . 5- 6 5.12.4 Umbilical . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-33 Dry Suits and Dry-Suit 5.12.5 Full-Face Masks and Helmets. . . . . . . . . 5-34
Underwear Maintenance . . . . . . . 5- 6 5.12.6 Maintenance of Surface-Supplied Gear . . 5-35
5.2.4 Hot-Water Suits and Systems . . . . . . . . . . 5- 7 5.13 HOOKAH . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-35
5.2.5 Suit Accessories . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5- 8 5.14 DEPTH GAUGES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-36 Gloves . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5- 8 5.15 WIRELESS COMMUNICATIONS . . . . . . . . . 5-37 Hoods. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5- 8 5.16 KNIVES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-38
5. 3 OPEN CIRCUIT SCUBA REGULATORS . . . . . 5- 8 5.17 DIVE LIGHTS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-38
5.3.1 Maintenance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-11 5.18 COMPASSES AND NAVIGATION . . . . . . . . . 5-39
5. 4 EMERGENCY AIR SUPPLY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-11 5.19 SIGNAL DEVICES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-39
5. 5 COMPRESSED AIR . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-11 5.20 SCOOTERS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-40
5.5.1 General Safety Precautions . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-12 5.21 SHARK DEFENSE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-40
5. 6 AIR COMPRESSORS AND 5.22 UNDERWATER SLATES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-41
FILTERING SYSTEMS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-14 5.23 SURFACE SUPPORT/MARKER FLOAT . . . . 5-41
5.6.1 Maintenance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-16 5.24 DIVE COMPUTERS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-42
5.6.2 Carbon Monoxide Monitoring Device . . . . 5-16 5.25 BOTTOM TIMERS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-44
5.6.3 Lubricants . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-17 5.26 UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY
5.6.4 Duties and Responsibilities . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-17 AND VIDEO. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-44
5. 7 COMPRESSED GAS CYLINDERS . . . . . . . . . . 5-17 5.26. 1 Still Photography vs. Video . . . . . . . . . 5-45
5.7.1 Cylinder Markings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-17 5.26. 2 Types of Underwater Camera
5.7.2 High-Pressure Cylinders . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-18 Systems for Still Photography . . . . . . . 5-45
5.7.3 Cylinder Inspection and 5.26. 3 Light and Color . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-46
Maintenance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-18 5.26. 4 Electronic Flash . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-46
5.7.4 Sustained Load Cracking (SLC) 5.26. 5 Trays and Flash Arms . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-47
in 6351 Aluminum Alloy Cylinders . . . . . . 5-21 5.26. 6 The Image Capture Medium:
5.7.5 Cylinder Valve and Prints, Slides, and Digital . . . . . . . . . . 5-47
Manifold Assembly . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-21 5.26. 7 Basic Techniques for Still
5.7.6 Reserve Valve . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-22 Photography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-48
5. 8 HIGH-PRESSURE AIR 5.26. 8 Video Cameras and Housings. . . . . . . . 5-48
STORAGE SYSTEMS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-23 5.26. 9 Basic Video Techniques . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-49
5. 9 BREATHING GAS BOOSTER PUMPS . . . . . . . 5-23 5.26.10 Camera Maintenance . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-49
Diver and Diving
Support Equipment 5
The type of diving equipment the diver wears has a
tremendous impact on the diver’s ability to work comfort-
ably, safely, and efficiently (Bachrach and Egstrom 1986).
Although equipment is a big factor in diver performance,
equipment alone cannot make up for a diver’s lack of abili-
ty in the water. A good diver must have a high level of fit-
ness and must be comfortable in the water.
A competent diver should be able to dive with most
any type of equipment provided he has been trained to use
it. Selecting the right dive gear for a scientific dive is a mat-
ter of defining the objectives of the dive and the location.
For some work, snorkeling equipment may be all that is
required, while for other jobs surface-supplied gear may be
the best choice. A diver must become totally familiar with
new equipment before entering a working situation.
With all diving equipment, remember that streamlin- FIGURE 5.1
ing is an essential factor in making it easy for the diver to Dive Mask with Nose Pocket
swim and maneuver under water. The more equipment the
diver wears, the more drag and change of center of gravity
will be created. Each piece of equipment should have a def-
inite purpose on a particular dive; and if it is not going to 5.1 BASIC EQUIPMENT
be used, it should not be carried. Streamlining is crucial to 5.1.1 Face Masks
productivity for the scientific diver. Face masks for scuba diving are designed to cover the
Given the durability of most diving gear, making the eyes and nose. The nose must be included inside the mask
right selection at the time of purchase is critical, since it is to allow the diver to equalize the pressure inside the mask
hard to justify equipment replacement if the equipment is by exhaling through his nostrils. This is one of the reasons
not worn out. By talking with diving officers and other sci- that goggles that cover only the eyes are not acceptable for
entific divers, the preferred models of gear for a particular diving.
location and type of diving are easily identified. A critical issue in selecting a mask is the fit. The mask
The NOAA Diving Program has a standardized equip- must fit comfortably and not leak. To test the fit, the diver
ment program whereby all active NOAA divers are issued places the mask against his face as he would when wear-
dive equipment. The program, which includes yearly main- ing it normally, but without using the strap to hold the
tenance and testing of all scuba regulators, pressure and mask in place. The diver then inhales through his nose,
depth gauges by a factory-trained NOAA technician, pro- holds his breath, and attempts to make the mask seal
vides standardization of equipment for all NOAA divers against his face. If no air leaks into the mask and the mask
and helps ensure quality control. stays in position, it can be considered to be a good fit, as

long as it is comfortable. Divers with mustaches having dif- Many snorkels today are available with top mounted
ficulty achieving a mask seal may have to use some type of valves that help to keep water out of the snorkel while
substance such as Vaseline® on their mustaches to achieve surface swimming. These valves are not designed to seal
a proper seal. the snorkel under water but to keep spray from flooding
Many divers find that a nose “pocket” is a useful fea- the snorkel while the diver swims on the surface. These
ture of a mask in that it provides a means for the diver to can be extremely effective and make surface swimming
pinch his nostrils closed in order to aid in equalizing the much easier.
pressure in his ears (see Figure 5.1). Other features include Most modern snorkels use plastic rings or attachment
purge valves and double feather edge seals. A purge is a devices to connect the snorkel to the diver’s mask. These
one-way valve through which water can be expelled that rings allow the snorkel to be easily removed from the
enters the mask. Water can also be removed from a mask mask, so that the mask can be stored in a protective box
without a purge. A double feather edge is a type of sealing for transport to and from the dive site or during airline
(double) edge on the material that fits against the face. travel.
Once it is determined that the mask fits properly, the In the United States, the snorkel is traditionally mount-
next most critical feature is visibility. Side windows in the ed on the left side of the diver’s head, since the regulator is
masks can enhance peripheral vision (Egstrom 1982), but routed over the diver’s right shoulder. In Europe, the oppo-
can sometimes produce a “rear view effect.” Mask win- site arrangement is sometimes employed since the regula-
dows are made from safety-tempered glass. Additionally, tor may be directed over the diver’s left shoulder.
some masks have downward lenses or optical devices that
will help the diver see more of the equipment mounted on 5.1.3 Fins
his chest and waist. Fins for scuba diving are usually much more rugged
For divers who require glasses, prescription lenses are and have larger blades than those used for snorkeling or
available that will fit many popular dive masks. For swimming. The fins provide propulsion for divers who are
divers who have a common prescription and do not need heavily encumbered with equipment and make underwa-
bifocals, many dive stores stock lenses for their more pop- ter swimming much easier. Human leg muscles are very
ular mask styles. Divers who have an unusual prescrip- efficient for underwater propulsion when properly
tion will need to order specially prepared lenses for their equipped.
masks. When divers are fully geared up, it may not be possible
The lenses of new masks need to be washed with a for them to use their hands for swimming purposes, since
mild liquid detergent, such as dishwashing detergent, to straps and thermal protection suits inhibit normal arm
help remove any chemicals that may remain from manu- movement. In addition, scientific divers are usually carry-
facturing and may cause the mask to fog. ing instruments, slates, or other equipment that make it
impractical to use their arms for swimming.
5.1.2 Snorkels The human leg provides propulsion under water by
A snorkel is an indispensable piece of equipment for moving the levers of the body, i.e. the femur and tibia, to
the open water scuba diver using self-contained open cir- provide thrust through the use of the fins. Since these bones
cuit gear (see Figure 5.2). The purpose of the snorkel is to are of different lengths in each individual, providing a differ-
allow the diver to swim more easily on the surface without ent mechanical advantage for each diver, there is no one fin
consuming the compressed gas in his cylinder. that will work best for each person. A fin that works very
Ideally, the snorkel should not exceed 14 inches in
length and should have the minimum number of bends
possible. If the snorkel has a corrugated hose, allowing it
to bend easily, the inside bore of the hose
must be smooth, not ribbed. Small diame-
ter snorkels, and those with corrugated
hoses with internal ribs, produce high
breathing resistance, add substantially to
equipment dead air space (where no gas
exchange takes place), and a corrugated hose
also makes elimination of all water in the
snorkel all but impossible.


Snorkel with Attached Snorkel Holder Adjustable Heel Strap Fins

5-2 NOAA Diving Manual

5.2.1 Dive Skins
There are many different types of thin suits available
that provide sun protection as well as protection from coral
cuts, scrapes, and stinging creatures such as jellyfish. These
suits are form fitting, have good stretch, and are generally
referred to as “dive skins” or just “skins.”
Skins made from Lycra® provide good protection from
the sun but do not provide any thermal protection. There
are also suits made from Lycra® combined with additional
materials such as polyolefin microfibers which provide
good wind resistance.
Dive skins may be worn in tropical waters when the
diver’s activity level is relatively high. During warm water
dives where the diver will remain relatively inactive, a wet
FIGURE 5.4 suit or Polartec® skin, which provides insulation equivalent
Full-foot Fins to a 2-millimeter suit without the same buoyant properties
of a wet suit, is recommended. In some cases where buoy-
ancy is desirable, wet suits made from rubber are recom-
5.2.2 Wet Suits
Wet suits are made from foam neoprene, a synthetic
material with thousands of tiny closed cells that are filled
with nitrogen gas (see Figure 5.6). The suits are designed
to allow water to enter the area between the diver’s skin
and the suit. Ideally, a wet suit should fit snugly, allowing
only a minimum of water inside the suit. This thin layer of
water is warmed up by the diver’s body and provides rea-
sonable comfort at moderate temperatures. A cold water
wet suit usually provides a double layer of insulation over
the torso.
Wet suits come in a variety of thicknesses, one mil-
limeter up to seven millimeters. They also come in numer-
well for one diver may not work satisfactorily for another; ous designs, including shorty suits, one-piece suits, and
therefore, divers may have to try several different types and multi-piece suits.
sizes before finding the best set of fins for their use. For warm waters, above 80°F (26.7C), a one-piece
Fins come in two styles, the open heel adjustable fin and suit, two to three millimeters thick, may be all that is neces-
the full-foot pocket fin (see Figures 5.3, 5.4). Fins are made sary for most divers. As the water temperature drops,
from either rubber or graphite and are available in different thicker suits and multiple layers of insulation become nec-
foot pocket sizes. While full-foot fins, without booties, are essary. For example, in Southern California, the preferred
frequently used in the tropics, they are rarely used in colder wet suit is usually six or seven millimeters thick with a
waters. One of the disadvantages to the full-foot fin is that “farmer john” set of bib overalls and a jacket of the same
when the foot pocket wears out, the fin cannot be repaired. material with an attached hood.
The open heel adjustable fin is normally worn with neo- The use of zippers in wet suits is a personal preference
prene booties (see Figure 5.5). The major advantage to this of the diver. While zippers make it easier to don a suit,
type of fin is that if the heel strap breaks, it can be replaced. they also increase the cost of the suit, decrease reliability,
and allow more water to enter the suit.
Most wet suits have a nylon exterior coating to help
5.2 THERMAL PROTECTION reduce abrasion to the rubber and a nylon interior to make
The type of thermal protection will be determined by it easier to don the suit. Some divers prefer a suit without a
the water temperature, the diver’s work load, personal nylon lining and use a diluted solution of hair conditioner
physiology, and any contaminants that may be present in or talcum powder to make the neoprene surface slippery
the water. Each of these factors is important, but it is essen- enough to slide easily over their skin.
tial for the diver to pay attention to his own comfort level Wet suits are very buoyant on the surface. For this
in the water. While a large male may be comfortable in a reason, divers usually wear a weight belt when wearing
six millimeter wet suit in 62°F water, a small female may this type of thermal protection. However, as the diver
be extremely uncomfortable. descends and the suit compresses at depth, buoyancy

Diver and Diving Support Equipment 5-3

Efficiency of Wet Suits vs. Dry Suits

Wetsuit Drysuit
Water 1st 2nd 3rd 1st 2nd 3rd
Temperature Dive Dive Dive Dive Dive Dive
70OF 100% 100% 100% 100% 100% 100%
60OF 100% 90% 80% 100% 100% 100%
50OF 80% 70% 50% 100% 100% 100%
40OF 50% 25% * 100% 85% 75%
32OF * * * 100% 75% 55%
Table is based upon 30-minute dives at 50 fsw, with one hour
surface intervals between dives. The * indicates an exposure
not recommended unless involved in a contingency situation.

boots, and seals at the diver’s wrists and neck. The suits are
normally designed so that insulating undergarments may be
worn beneath them. These undergarments trap a layer of air
that provides primary protection against cold.
By varying the amount of underwear (insulation) worn
underneath the dry suit, it is possible to dive in a wide vari-
ety of water temperatures. When purchasing a suit, the
diver should try the suit on with the thickest underwear he
anticipates using to ensure a proper fit.
Dry suits can increase a diver’s bottom time dramatical-
ly, since the diver’s body doesn’t need to “burn” as many
calories to keep warm. Keeping the diver warm will enhance
FIGURE 5.6 his performance and lower the risk of hypothermia.
Cold Water Wet Suit Dry suits are made from a variety of materials, including
foam neoprene, crushed or compressed neoprene, tri-lami-
decreases and the diver must adjust for this change of nates, urethane-coated fabrics, and vulcanized rubber. Each
buoyancy. Between dives, the water that has been trapped type of material has advantages and disadvantages. A heavy
inside the wet suit normally leaks out. This causes a loss in duty suit made of vulcanized rubber, for example, is worn with
body heat. In addition, divers wearing wet suits are sub- cold water undergarments and is available with mating yokes
jected to evaporative cooling as the wind blows over their to accommodate various diving helmets (see Figure 5.7).
suit and the water on its surface vaporizes. Foam neoprene (wet suit material) is the least expensive
The cells of the material that provide the insulation for type of dry suit. It has good stretch and thermal character-
the wet suit begin to break down over time due to age and istics, but tends to develop leaks over time as cracks occur
use. When this happens, the suit loses much of its insula- in the neoprene bubble layers and water migrates through
tion value. the material (see Figure 5.8).
Wet suits are most effective at water temperatures
above 60°F (15.6C); in colder waters, a dry suit is generally
recommended (see Table 5.1). Maintenance of Wet Suits

Proper care of wet suits, like all dive gear, is critical to
ensure long life and reliability. After each day of diving,
the suit must be thoroughly rinsed with fresh, clean water
and allowed to dry. Avoid hanging the suit in the sun to
dry for long periods or for permanent storage. Heat and
ultraviolet rays from the sun will deteriorate neoprene;
therefore, store the suit in a cool, dark, and dry location.

5.2.3 Dry Suits

Dry suits are the most efficient form of passive thermal FIGURE 5.7
protection for the diver. Dry suits are designed as one-piece Heavy Duty Suit Made
suits with a waterproof zipper for entering the suit, attached of Vulcanized Rubber

5-4 NOAA Diving Manual

The most common location for the inflator valve is the
middle of the diver’s chest. Inflator valves must never be
covered by the diver’s buoyancy compensator, which can
make it difficult to access the valve and lead to runaway
inflation accidents. This can occur when the buoyancy
compensator (BC) bladder pushes on the suit valve causing
the valve to inflate the suit. As the suit inflates, it pushes the
valve against the BC, which causes it to continue to inflate.
The inflator valve is supplied with air from a low pres-
sure hose that connects to the first stage of the diver’s regu-
lator. The hose must only be connected to a low-pressure
port. High-pressure breathing gas entering the hose will
FIGURE 5.8 cause the hose to fail.
Foam Neoprene Dry Suit The inflator hose must be equipped with a quick dis-
connect fitting so that the hose can be immediately
Crushed and compressed neoprene are rugged dry-suit released from the valve in the event the valve sticks in the
materials that have good stretch and some inherent insula- open position. The quick disconnect must be easy to oper-
tion. The disadvantages to this type of suit are its relatively ate so that it can be removed, or reconnected, even if the
heavy weight and higher cost. diver is wearing thick gloves or three-finger mitts.
TLS stands for tri-laminate suit. This is an extremely Divers working in very cold water or using helium-
lightweight material originally developed for chemical war- oxygen gas mixtures sometimes use a suit inflation system
fare. The material is very flexible and reasonably rugged. The that is independent of their breathing gas supply. In these
disadvantage of suits made from this material is that they situations, the preferred suit inflation gas is argon, which is
don’t stretch. normally supplied from a small cylinder mounted on the
Urethane-coated nylon material is similar in appearance thigh of the diver’s suit (Barsky et al. 1998). When this type
to TLS but not nearly as flexible nor as reliable. The advan- of system is used the inflator valve will usually be mounted
tage to urethane-coated nylon dry suits is low cost. on the thigh as well.
Vulcanized rubber material has some stretch, but not No empirical data exists on the effects of argon
nearly as much as crushed or compressed neoprene or foam absorbed transdermally on a diver’s decompression obliga-
neoprene. Vulcanized rubber dries quickly and is quick and tion. For this reason, divers should be conservative in
easy to repair. One disadvantage of vulcanized rubber suits is using this type of system.
that they cannot be tailored to be as form fitting as crushed The exhaust valve should be a low-profile valve that
neoprene or TLS suits. They are also relatively heavy suits can be vented either automatically or manually during
when compared to TLS or urethane. Vulcanized rubber suits ascent. The most common location for the exhaust valve is
are preferred for diving in contaminated water because they on the left arm on the outside although a chest mounted
are the easiest of all dry-suit types to decontaminate. valve is not uncommon. The exhaust valve must vent air
faster than the inflator valve can supply it to the suit.
NOTE Different models of valves vent at different rates. A faster
Polluted-water diving requires specialized equipment exhaust is better since it allows a diver to dump the air from
and training (see Chapter 13 for more information). his suit more quickly (Barsky, Long, and Stinton 1996).
Even the same models of valves will not always vent at the
The two main styles of dry suits are shoulder-entry suits same rate due to differences in manufacturing tolerances,
and self-donning suits. Again, both types of suits have their wear, maintenance, etc.
advantages and disadvantages. Also, dry suits are designed
with boots with either hard or soft soles. Dry-Suit Seals and Accessories
With a shoulder-entry suit the diver gets into the suit Dry suits are equipped with seals at the wrists and
through the back by opening the waterproof zipper. The dis- neck. These seals can be either latex or neoprene.
advantage of a shoulder-entry suit is that it requires assistance Latex seals are the softest, thinnest, most flexible seals
to get in and out of the suit. available and can be cut to fit the individual diver. Howev-
Self-donning dry suits have the major advantage of er, latex seals are not as rugged as neoprene seals and are
allowing the diver to get in and out of the suit by himself. more prone to damage if mishandled. In areas with heavy
The disadvantage is that self-donning suits are usually more smog, latex seals usually only last about a year before they
expensive than a similar shoulder-entry suit. must be replaced due to rubber deterioration.
Latex seals can be ordered in different thicknesses. Dry-Suit Valves Thicker latex seals last longer and are more reliable, but can
Most dry suits today have separate inflator and exhaust be troublesome to don and remove. Some dry suits come
valves. This is the preferred arrangement to avoid getting with or may be adapted for use with a cuff ring system that
water in the suit and for the most precise buoyancy control. allows change of cuff rings, seals, and the use of dry gloves.

Diver and Diving Support Equipment 5-5

Both latex and neoprene seals should be dusted with loses control of the object, he will become positively buoy-
pure talcum powder prior to donning. Do not use scented ant, which can lead to a rapid ascent. Rapid ascents are
talcs which contain oils and can damage the seals. If no tal- dangerous and can cause lung over-pressure injuries and
cum powder is available, soapy water may be used as an omitted decompression.
alternative. Neoprene seals are more rugged than latex seals Some manufacturers recommend the use of buoyancy
and can last for several years. The negative side of neoprene compensators with dry suits. The buoyancy compensator is
seals is that they tend to leak more than latex seals. used primarily for surface flotation and as a back-up device
Proper donning of suit cuffs is absolutely critical to a in the event of a catastrophic dry-suit failure. Divers who
dry dive. Jewelry, rings, etc., should be removed when are more heavily weighted with multiple cylinders may
donning neck and wrist seals to avoid damage to the seals. need to use the buoyancy compensator in conjunction with
the suit under water. Controlling two independent flotation Dry-Suit Zippers systems (the dry suit and the buoyancy compensator) at the
The waterproof, pressure-proof zipper is what made same time is considered an advanced skill and requires
the modern dry suit possible. These zippers are very similar additional training and practice.
to the zippers used in space suits.
Just as a heavier latex seal is more reliable, the heavier Dry-Suit Underwear
the zipper the more rugged and damage resistant it will be. Several different types of dry-suit underwear are avail-
The most heavy-duty zippers have individually pinned able in different thicknesses. The three most popular types
“teeth” which can be replaced if broken. Lighter weight of material used are Thinsulate®, Polartec®, and synthetic
zippers must be completely replaced when damaged. fleece.
Special care must be taken to ensure that no dry-suit Thinsulate® is made from polyolefin microfibers. The
underwear, hair, or other foreign material is caught in the most important feature of Thinsulate® is that it is water
zipper when it is closed. Not only would this cause the zip- resistant and maintains most of its insulating capabilities
per to leak, it may also cause the zipper to break. Dam- even when it is wet. Undergarments made of Thinsulate®
age/wear to zipper teeth can be minimized by not twisting have more bulk than most other types of dry-suit under-
the zipper at angles oblique to the normal linear direction wear. They also do not stretch or breathe and are not as
during donning and removing the suit. comfortable to wear as some other types of undergar-
Dry-suit zippers should be lubricated with bee’s wax ments.
prior to closing. The lubrication should only be applied to Polartec® is another synthetic material that is widely
the outside of the zipper, never on the inside. Paraffin wax used as dry-suit underwear. Polartec® is easy to don and
may also be used and even a bar of soap can be used if no the material has excellent stretch, which makes it easy to
other lubricant is available. swim and move. The material has good insulation charac-
Silicone spray should never be used to lubricate a dry- teristics with very little bulk, but it does not maintain its
suit zipper, or any other part of the suit. Silicone spray insulation capabilities once it is wet. For this reason, it is
works its way into the fabric of the suit, making it difficult not recommended for critical applications such as diving
to get a good bond between the suit and replacement parts under the ice.
that must be glued to the suit when it is time to make Synthetic fleeces are comfortable to wear but do not
repairs. offer the insulating capabilities of either Thinsulate® or
Polartec®. They also do not have the stretch capabilities of Dry-Suit Use Polartec®.
All divers who use dry suits must be trained to use As the diver varies his insulation, his buoyancy will
them properly. Although dry suits are not difficult to use, change. Thinner dry-suit underwear traps less air and
accidents have occurred when divers who were untrained requires less weight than thicker material. This must be
have attempted to use them. considered as the diver makes changes in his insulation
Under normal conditions, dry-suit divers control their with the season, when traveling to another location with
buoyancy under water by introducing air into the suit or different conditions, or with his work rate.
buoyancy compensator, if a BC is worn. The air is also
used to offset the effects of pressure to prevent suit squeeze. Dry Suits and Dry-Suit Underwear Maintenance
To control buoyancy upon ascent, the air must be vented Dry suits require more maintenance than wet suits to
out of the suit as it expands. Dry-suit divers should keep a ensure consistent performance. The seals, zipper, valves,
thin layer of air in the suit at all times for thermal insula- and suit itself must receive regular attention.
tion. This may mean adding weight to the weight belt to At the end of each diving day, the exterior of the suit,
compensate for the additional buoyancy. including the valves, zippers, and seals, must be rinsed thor-
The dry suit worn by the diver must never be used as a oughly with fresh water. If the diver has perspired inside the
lifting device to lift heavy objects under water. If the diver suit, the interior of the suit will need to be rinsed as well.

5-6 NOAA Diving Manual

Check inside the suit for perspiration or moisture by
reaching all the way down inside the suit to the boots. If
the boots feel damp inside the suit, the inside of the suit
needs rinsing.
The suit should be dried by hanging it to dry over a
line or bar out of the sun. Do not use a hanger. If the suit
has been rinsed inside, the suit must be turned inside out to
dry the interior, too. The entire suit, both inside and out-
side, must be completely dry prior to storage.
Latex seals need to be washed periodically with a
diluted solution of dishwashing soap and water. This will
remove any body oils or other substances (i.e., gasoline,
petroleum products, creosote) the suit may have been
exposed to in the water which will cause the seals to deteri-
orate. When the seals begin to crack or appear sticky, they
will need to be replaced by an authorized repair facility.
Aside from lubricating the zipper prior to every dive,
the zipper should be cleaned regularly with soap and water
and a toothbrush. This will help to remove corrosion from
the zipper and keep it operating smoothly.
A small shot of silicone spray should be applied to the
opening of the nipple of the inflator valve and the valve
should be operated several times. The valve must work
smoothly and not stick. FIGURE 5.9
Dry suits should be stored rolled up, in a bag, in a Hot-Water Suits
cool, dry place, away from sources of ozone, such as hot-
water heaters or electric motors. Several days prior to any
dive the suit should be removed from storage and inspected
available, and this is usually the most reliable method for
to ensure it is in good condition for diving. Dry suits
heating the water supply. Diesel and electrical powered
should be leak-checked prior to initial use each year. This
units, as well as “Piggyback” units that draw their heat
is done by plugging the seals, inflating the suit, and brush-
from the low-pressure air compressor that supplies the air
ing it with a diluted soap solution.
for the surface-supplied diver, are also available.
Dry-suit underwear needs to be laundered periodically
The water supply to the diver is controlled using a mix-
to remove body oils, stains, and dirt. Divers must check the
ing unit similar to that in a household fixture, but on a
instructions supplied with the garment to determine proper
much larger scale. This mixing unit is normally located at
laundry procedures. Improper laundering can ruin some
the dive control station topside where the diving supervi-
garments, especially Thinsulate®. sor can monitor both temperature and water flow. The
manufacturer for the hot-water system will normally pro-
5.2.4 Hot-Water Suits and Systems vide charts that suggest the appropriate water temperature
Hot-water suit systems are the most effective way of to supply to the diver based upon the flow rate, the length
keeping a surface-supplied diver warm in cold water (see of hot-water hose in use, and the bottom temperature
Figure 5.9). The system consists of a surface heater, a where the diver is working.
mixing manifold, a hot-water hose that delivers heated The hot-water hose is a heavy, insulated hose that is
water from the topside unit to the diver, and a special bundled into the diver’s umbilical. This hose will usually
hot-water suit. be the thickest hose in the umbilical. This hose may con-
In most cases, these systems will be equipped with a nect to a thinner hose three to four foot prior to its termina-
suction pump that will draw raw sea water from over the tion at the diver to provide greater flexibility and freedom
side and supply it to the heating system. On a large ship, it of movement for the diver.
may be possible to plumb the sea water intake on the sur- The hose connects to the diver’s suit with a quick dis-
face heater directly into the ship’s raw water supply. connect fitting at a valve located on the suit at the waist.
The topside hot-water system can heat the water using The valve is normally a simple, quarter-turn ball valve.
a variety of different methods. The location and logistics of Hot-water suits are usually made from crushed neoprene
the site will usually determine which heating method is or another non-compressible suit material. The suit should fit
most practical. On a large ship or barge, steam is frequently loosely. Inside the suit, there are perforated tubes that run

Diver and Diving Support Equipment 5-7

down the diver’s chest, back, legs, and arms. Hot water is dis- gloves are normally made from foam neoprene. Three-finger
tributed throughout the suit by these tubes. The water exits gloves may be worn in colder waters to provide better ther-
the suit at the ankles, wrists, neck, and through the zipper. mal protection (see Figure 5.11).
The hot water continuously flushes through the suit.
It is recommended that the diver wear a thin (two–three Hoods
mm) shorty wet suit under the hot-water suit. The shorty A hood is required if the water is cold enough to war-
suit serves several important purposes. First, it provides rant. Standard neoprene wet-suit hoods can be used with
some buoyancy, since most surface-supplied diving outfits some dry suits; however, a more preferred hood is one made
do not include a buoyancy compensator. Second, in the especially to seal against the neck seal of the dry suit. These
event that the mixing valve fails and scalding hot water is hoods usually have a short neck, and use skin-in neoprene
accidentally sent to the diver, the shorty suit will provide around the neck, and sometimes around the face, to provide
some protection from burns. Finally, if several divers are a good seal against water intrusion. There are also dry hoods
sharing the same suit, wearing a shorty made out of neoprene or latex that can be attached directly to
suit can help prevent fungal infections the dry suit. The latex hood uses an insulated liner, and
being passed from diver to diver. works well in extremely cold environments. They generally
do not seal against beards, or on people with very thin faces.
5.2.5 Suit Accessories Their features include: Gloves
Gloves are worn by most • Neoprene or rubber (if rubber, an insulating skull cap
divers to protect the hands from made of fleece may be worn under the hood)
cuts in warm water and for thermal • May be permanently attached to suit
protection in cold water (see Fig- • May have a one-way valve at the very top to allow air
ure 5.10). Gloves are made in a to escape (otherwise it will balloon-up)
variety of styles and from differ-
ent materials. Cold-water Regardless of the type of hood worn, divers must be able
to equalize pressure in their outer ears to avoid an ear squeeze.
Equalization requires allowing water to enter the hood and fill
FIGURE 5.10 the outer ear canal. The same requirement can be achieved by
Protective Diving Glove allowing air from a full-face mask to flow into the hood and
thus, reach the outer ear canal and ultimately the ear drum.


The function of the open circuit scuba regulator is to
reduce the high-pressure breathing gas supplied by the scuba
cylinder to the ambient pressure at the diver. This is accom-
plished in two steps. The first stage of the regulator, which
FIGURE 5.11 attaches to the cylinder valve, reduces the high pressure to
Examples of an intermediate pressure that is usually about 140 psi over
Three-Finger Foam ambient pressure (see Figure 5.12). This intermediate pres-
Neoprene Gloves sure fills the low-pressure hose which connects the first stage
and the second stage. The second stage reduces the interme-
diate pressure to ambient pressure.
The open circuit regulator in use today is known as a
“demand regulator” because it only supplies air when the
diver inhales or “demands” it. When the diver is not inhal-
ing, no gas flows through the regulator.
The two most common designs for first stages are the
piston and diaphragm models. First stages may be pro-
duced in either of two configurations: “balanced” or
“unbalanced” models. Generally speaking, balanced regu-
lators offer higher performance than unbalanced models
and are the most common design found today.
The first stage of the regulator may be environmentally
sealed to help keep contaminants out and prevent freeze-up
during ice diving operations. Some regulators are supplied
from the factory this way, while others may be equipped
with this option after purchase.

5-8 NOAA Diving Manual

Open High-Pressure (HP) and Low-Pressure (LP)

is designed to work at higher pressures. With a DIN regula-

tor and valve system, the first stage actually threads into the
valve body. The principle behind the DIN fittings is known
as a “captured O-ring” because once the regulator is
screwed into the valve, it is almost impossible for an O-ring
failure to cause a loss of breathing gas. For this reason, DIN
First Stage of the Regulator
fittings are preferred for all overhead environment dives
such as wreck penetrations, ice diving, cave diving, and
The types of cylinder connections available are the tradi- “virtual” overhead environments, such as decompression
tional yoke connection and the European DIN connection. diving (Palmer 1994).
Yoke connectors are intended for high-pressure service not The first stage of the regulator must be equipped with a
to exceed 3,000 psi. DIN connections are used for cylinders sufficient number of high- and low-pressure ports to allow
and regulators that operate at pressures up to 4,500 psi. (see attachment of all of the accessories the diver will need (see
Figure 5.13). Figure 5.14). These may include an additional second stage
DIN is an acronym which stands for “Deutsches Institut hose, a low-pressure inflator for a buoyancy compensator, a
fuer Normung,” which is a European association of engi- low-pressure hose for a dry suit, and a high-pressure hose for
neers and manufacturers that sets standards for compressed a submersible pressure gauge. Ideally, the first stage will have
gas cylinders and valves. Valves manufactured to these stan- enough ports so that the optimal routing for each hose can be
dards are known as “DIN fittings” or “DIN valves.” achieved. Sharp bends or kinks in hoses must be avoided to
The DIN connection for regulators and valves is a more prevent gas flow restrictions and premature hose failures.
reliable connection than the more common yoke fitting and Some first stage regulators are equipped with swivels that
will permit the hoses to turn to help achieve a better angle
for hose routing (see Figure 5.15). This is a desirable feature


DIN System Threaded Valve Body Hose Swivels

Diver and Diving Support Equipment 5-9

vent gas vigorously on its own. This loss of gas is common-
Mouthpiece ly referred to as a “free flow.”
Most regulator second stages today are either down-
stream valves or pilot valves. Downstream valves tend to be
more common and are usually simpler than pilot valves
(see Figure 5.17).
To achieve higher performance, the regulator may be
equipped with a “venturi” mechanism, which promotes
higher gas flows. The venturi increases gas velocity and
lowers pressure making breathing easier.
Pilot valve regulators offer high performance but tend
Purge Button to be more expensive than downstream designs. Most pilot
valve regulators are extremely compact and lightweight. In
a pilot valve regulator, the demand lever opens the pilot
valve first. The pilot valve then opens the larger main valve
that provides the breathing gas.
Pilot valve second stages and more traditional designs
Cutaway of Second Stage Regulator
may have diver-operated adjustments that are designed to
for divers who have many accessories connected to their enhance breathing. In many cases, pilot valve second
regulators. stages may be equipped with a “predive” and “dive”
The second stage regulator includes the mouthpiece and switch that changes the breathing characteristics to prevent
purge button (see Figure 5.16). When the diver inhales, a air loss while surface swimming on snorkel when the regu-
lower pressure inside the second stage is created, which lator is not in use. Similarly, some regulators are equipped
causes the diaphragm to depress, moving towards the with adjustment knobs that can be set to make breathing
diver’s mouth and actuating a lever. The lever opens the easier at depth (see Figure 5.18).
valve that allows air to pass into the second stage and sup- Some second stages have also been engineered for ice
ply air to the diver. When the diver exhales, the diaphragm diving operations and have special vanes or other devices
moves away from the diver’s mouth and the exhaled gas in them to capture the heat from the diver’s exhaled breath
exits the second stage through the exhaust valve. to help prevent freeze-up. These designs are recommended
If the diver depresses the purge button to expel water for divers who regularly conduct work under the ice.
from the second stage, this action pushes directly on the Regulators can be equipped with an additional second
diaphragm which activates the lever and allows gas to flow stage, known as an “octopus” rig that can be used to sup-
through the second stage as long as the button is pushed. If ply air to an out-of-air diver in an emergency (see Figure
sand or other debris has accumulated in the second stage, 5.19). This system eliminates the need for two divers to
or if the regulator is out of adjustment, the regulator may share a single mouthpiece and is usually compact and

Pilot Valve Pilot

Tilt-Valve Valve
Assembly Orifice

Main Valve
Air to
Diver Spring Chamber
Valve Seal

Air to Air to
Diver Diver

Main Valve Opening

Air from Air from

First Stage Pilot Valve
Mechanism First Stage

Downstream Second Stage

5-10 NOAA Diving Manual

Adjustment Knob to Ease DiverÕs Breathing

helps to streamline the diver. The additional second hose

with the second stage can be purchased in a right or left
configuration. This allows the second hose to be posi-
tioned under either the diver’s left or right arm.

5.3.1 Maintenance FIGURE 5.20

All regulators should be rinsed promptly with fresh, NOAA Technician Inspecting and Repairing Regu-
clean water at the end of each day of diving, particularly lators
after exposure to salt water. The preferred method of per-
forming this task is to have the regulator connected to the 5.4 EMERGENCY AIR SUPPLY
cylinder with the pressure on. Water should be directed To cope with a complete loss of breathing gas, some
over the first stage, the hose, and both inside and outside divers prefer to carry an independent breathing gas supply,
of the second stage. complete with its own regulator. Special compact systems
In the event that it is not possible to rinse the regulator are available with integrated regulators that have been
while it is connected and pressurized, it may be rinsed with designed for this purpose. Another option is to carry a
the dust cap in place over the high-pressure filter on the first small (usually 13 cu. ft.) “bail-out” cylinder with its own
stage. Failure to secure the dust cap in position prior to rins- regulator (see Figure 5.21). The size of the cylinder should
ing will allow water to enter the first stage which can lead to be determined by the distance and/or time that separates
corrosion. Similarly, if the regulator is not connected, it is the diver from a direct access to the surface. The cylinder
essential to avoid pressing the purge button on the second may also be referred to as a “pony bottle” or “reserve gas
stage while rinsing. Pressing the purge button will also allow breathing supply.”
water to flow back through the hose and enter the first stage.
NOAA requires that all their scuba regulators be inspect-
ed and serviced by an authorized repair technician annually
Compressed air is the most frequently used diver’s
(see Figure 5.20). Regulators that are used daily will need to
breathing medium. In its natural state at sea level pressure,
be inspected and serviced more frequently, as often as every
compressed air consists of nitrogen, oxygen, argon, carbon
quarter, depending on the environment and care. Prior to
each dive, the diver should routinely do a predive inspection
of regulator, hoses, mouthpieces, test breathing, leaks, etc.


Octopus Regulators A Bail-Out Cylinder

Diver and Diving Support Equipment 5-11

dioxide, and trace amounts of other gases. Table 5.2 shows breathing medium. When compressed air is purchased
the natural composition of air and purity standards. from a manufacturer, it is essential that the gas is of high
All ambient air does not meet the standards of purity purity, free of oil contaminants, and suitable for breathing.
necessary for use as a diver’s breathing medium. For exam- It should be labeled “breathing air.” Compressed air sus-
ple, in urban areas the carbon monoxide concentration in pected of being contaminated should not be used for diving
the air may be high, and in some cases it may reach a con- until tested and found safe.
centration of 50-100 parts per million (ppm) (.005 - .01%). Proper identification and careful handling of com-
Ambient air may also contain dust, sulfur, oxides, and pressed gas cylinders are essential to safety. Compressed
other impurities. These contaminants derive from industri- gas cylinders used to transport gas under pressure are
al sources and engine exhausts and must be avoided in the subject to Department of Transportation (DOT) regula-
breathing air supplied to a diver. tions. These regulations include design, material, inspec-
Scuba cylinders should not be filled from an ambient air tion, and marking requirements. Compressed gas
source when an air pollution alert is in effect. The Environ- cylinders can be extremely hazardous if mishandled and
mental Protection Agency (EPA) monitors ozone and other should be stored securely in a rack, preferably in the
oxidants in metropolitan areas, and the local EPA office upright position.
should be consulted before a diving operation is undertaken When in transit, cylinders should be secured from
in an area suspected of having high pollutant levels. rolling. Standing an unsecured cylinder on end or allowing
In addition to airborne pollutants, the air compressor it to roll unsecured could result in the explosive rupture of
machinery and storage system themselves may introduce the cylinder. Cylinders can become deadly projectiles capa-
contaminants, including lubricating oil and its vapor, into ble of penetrating a wall, and they can propel themselves at
the breathing medium. Additionally, the temperature of great speeds over long distances.
the gas being compressed can be high enough at each suc- Scuba cylinders are often fitted with a rubber or plastic
cessive stage to cause pyrolytic decomposition of any boot that has holes in it to permit draining. These boots fit
hydrocarbon compounds present. This is particularly true over the base of the cylinder and help to keep the cylinder
if the compressor’s interstage coolers are not functioning in an upright position. However, cylinders equipped with
properly. Intercooler malfunction can be caused by exces- such boots should not be left unsecured in an upright posi-
sive condensate, impaired cooling water circulation, or, tion, because the boot alone does not provide sufficient
in the case of air radiator coolers, by loss of cooling air protection against falling.
flow caused by debris, dirt, or lint getting into the radiator
fins. NOTE
The free air intake of the compressor must be located Cylinder boots should be removed frequently and
to draw air from an area where there are no contaminants. the cylinder checked for evidence of corrosion.
Potential contaminants include engine or ventilation
exhaust, fumes or vapors from stored chemicals, fuel, or Compressed gas cylinders are protected against exces-
paint, and excess moisture. sive overpressure by a rupture disk on the cylinder valve.
No compressor should be allowed to operate with its Because regulators or gauges may fail when a cylinder
intake or first-stage suction blocked because this will pro- valve is opened to check the cylinder pressure, it is impor-
duce a vacuum within the cylinders that can rapidly tant to stand to the side rather than in the line of discharge
draw lubricating oil or oil vapor from the compressor to avoid the blast effect in case of failure.
crankcase into the air system. Some effective methods of
preventing the intake of contaminated air are discussed WARNING
5.5.1 General Safety Precautions
There are three primary safety concerns associated If a cylinder valve is suspected of having a thread or
with the use of compressed air or any compressed gas: seal leak, it should be completely discharged before any
attempt is made to repair the leak. Leaks can sometimes be
• Gas is sufficiently pure and appropriate for its detected by painting a 20 percent detergent soap solution
intended use (called “Snoop®”) over the external parts of the valve with
• Compressed gas cylinders or storage cylinders are a brush. Even small leaks will be obvious because they will
properly labeled and handled cause a froth of bubbles to form. After the leak has been
• Cylinders are protected from fire and other hazards repaired, the soap solution used for leak detection must be
removed completely with fresh water and the valve dried
Compressed air is available from many sources. Most carefully before reassembly.
of it, however, is produced for industrial purposes and is, With the exception of scuba cylinders used for nitrox,
therefore, not of the purity necessary for use as a diver’s scuba cylinders generally are not color-coded or labeled as

5-12 NOAA Diving Manual

Air Purity Standards

G-7.1-1997 G-7.1-1997 G-7.1-1997 G-7.1-1997 G-7.1-1997 TABLE E N-1 FIRE DEPARTMENT SAFETY
PAGE 1500-16, PAR

Percent Oxygen 19.5-23.5 19.5-23.5 19.5-23.5 20-22 19.5-23.5 20-22 20-22 19.5-23.5 19.5-23.5
Not Specified 63 ppm 24 ppm Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified 25 ppm 25 ppm

Diver and Diving Support Equipment

Water, ppm

Dewpoint Not Specified -50ºF -65ºF Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified -65¡F -65¡F
(degrees ºF)

Oil (condensed) 5 5 5 5 None 5 5 5 5

(mg/m3 at NTP)

Particulates mg/m3 Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified 5 Not Specified

Carbon Monoxide 10 10 10 10 10 20 10 10 10

Odor None None None None None None None None None

Carbon Dioxide ppm 1,000 1,000 1,000 1,000 500 1,000 1,000 1,000 1,000

Total Volatile
Hydrocarbons (less Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified 25 Not Specified 25 25 Not Specified Not Specified
methane) ppm

Nitrogen Dioxide Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified 25 Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified

Nitric Oxide ppm Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified

Sulfur Dioxide ppm Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified 5 Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified
Solvents ppm Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified

Frequency Required Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified Not Specified x2 NOL x4 x4 x2
(Times per year) x4 OL
TRIÕs Air Standard 02 71 or 72 68 06 27 01 05 15 20

Typical Uses Manufacturing Manufacturing Manufacturing Diving Hospital Diving Diving Firefighting Firefighting
Firefighting Firefighting Manufacturing HAZ-MAT HAZ-MAT

to type of gas contained; however, large gas cylinders may inch gauge, or psig) they can deliver and the output volume
be color-coded and labeled. The label should be used to (measured in standard cubic feet per minute, or scfm) that
identify the contents of a gas cylinder, because color-coding can be delivered at that pressure. To be effective, both the
is not standardized. The safest way to verify gas content is output volume and pressure must be equal to or exceed the
via an analyzer. requirements of the system they supply.
Air compressors commonly used to provide divers
WARNING breathing air may be classified in the following groups:
ERS, THE CONTENT OF LARGE CYLINDERS • Low-Pressure, High Volume Air Compressors:
SHOULD ALWAYS BE IDENTIFIED BY LABELSÑDO These compressors are most often used to support
NOT RELY ON CYLINDER COLOR. surface-supplied diving operations or to supply
hyperbaric chambers. They are generally found at
Several special safety precautions to be observed when sites where large-scale diving operations are being
using compressed gas are noted on the label of gas cylinders. conducted or aboard surface platforms outfitted
In general, these precautions concern the flammability of for diving. Units commonly used have output vol-
the gas and its ability to support combustion. Although not umes of between 50 and 200 scfm at maximum
in itself flammable, compressed air does support combus- discharge pressures of between 150 and 300 psig.
tion and should, therefore, not be used or stored in an area These units may be either permanently installed or
where open flames, hot work, or flammable gases are pre- portable. Portable units are generally built into a
sent. skid assembly along with a power source (diesel
engine, gasoline engine, or electric motor), vol-
5.6 AIR COMPRESSORS AND ume tank, filter assembly, distribution manifold
for divers’ air, and a rack for storing divers’ umbil-
FILTERING SYSTEMS ical assemblies.
Air compressors are the most common source of • High-Pressure, Low Volume Air Compressors:
diver’s breathing air. The compressor used for umbilical These compressors are used for filling scuba cylin-
diving is generally backed up by a bank of high-pressure ders and high-pressure air storage systems. Portable
gas storage cylinders to reduce the possibility of interrupt- units used for filling scuba cylinders are commonly
ing the diver’s breathing gas supply because of loss of available with a volumetric capacity of two to six
power or compressor malfunction. scfm at a discharge pressure adequate to fully charge
There are two main types of compressors: high-pres- the cylinders (2,250 or 3,000 psig, depending on the
sure, low-volume, for use in filling scuba cylinders; and type of cylinder).
low-pressure, high-volume, used for umbilical diving. A
compressor is rated at the pressure at which it will unload Large, high-pressure cylinders are advantageous to use
or at which the unloading switches will activate. A com- as a source of breathing gas when there is convenient
pressor must have the output volume to provide a sufficient access to a high-pressure compressor for recharging. Using
quantity of breathing medium and to provide pressure cylinders as the gas source reduces the chance of losing the
above the range equivalent to the ambient pressure the primary supply, since the entire volume of gas needed for a
diver will experience at depth. When evaluating compres- dive is compressed and stored before the dive. Most lock-
sor capacity, the difference over bottom pressure and vol- out submersibles carry the divers’ gas supply in high-pres-
ume requirements of different types of underwater sure cylinders incorporated into the system. Compressed
breathing apparatus and/or helmets must be considered, as gas cylinders are also generally mounted on the exteriors of
well as umbilical length and diameter. underwater habitats, submersibles, and diving bells to pro-
Any air compressor used for a diver’s surface-supplied vide a backup gas supply in case of emergency. Divers
system must have an accumulator (volume cylinder) as an using the habitat as a base can refill their scuba cylinders
integral part of the system. The accumulator will provide a from these mounted cylinders.
limited emergency supply of air if the compressor fails. Many types of compressors are available: centrifugal,
As the number of scientific and recreational divers rotary screw, axial flow, and reciprocating. The most com-
increases, there is a concurrent rise in the number and vari- monly used type in the diving industry is the reciprocating,
ety of air compressors being used to supply breathing air. or piston-in-cylinder type. These compressors are further
Operators should become thoroughly familiar with the classified as “oil-lubricated” or “non-oil-lubricated,”
requirements associated with the production of breathing depending on whether or not they require lubrication of
air. To ensure proper maintenance and care, organizations their compression cylinders.
using compressors should assign the responsibility for the In an oil-lubricated compressor, the oil in the
operation of compressors to a specific individual. crankcase assembly also lubricates the pistons and cylinder
Air compressors are generally rated by two parameters: walls. As a result, some of the oil may come into direct
the maximum pressure (measured in pounds per square contact with the air being compressed. The lubricants used

5-14 NOAA Diving Manual

in machines that provide breathing air must be of the quali- enhance its capacity for adsorption. Since it removes harmful
ty specified for breathing air and be so designated by the contaminants by causing them to adhere to its surface, the
equipment manufacturer. One lubricant should not be sub- sieve itself remains inert and virtually unchanged physically
stituted for another unless the manufacturer’s directions so during the purification process. With appropriate periodic
specify. Chlorinated lubricants, non-synthetics, or phos- regeneration processes, most molecular sieves are capable of
phate esters (either pure or in a mixture) should never be removing a wide range of contaminants, including carbon
used. dioxide and most odors. However, the most effective way to
Oil-free compressors usually employ a standard oil- remove hydrocarbons and odors is still with the use of acti-
lubricated crankcase assembly similar to that of oil-lubricat- vated carbon, which acts much like a molecular sieve.
ed machines; however, the pumping chambers in oil-free Another popular filtration system involves the follow-
machines are designed to run either with water lubrication ing components, which are used in the sequence shown:
or with no lubrication at all using teflon rings on the pis-
tons. For this reason, some manufacturers describe their 1. Coalescing section to remove oil mist
machines as oil-free, even though the breakdown of such 2. Dessicant section to remove water vapor, nitrogen
compressors could still result in oily breathing air. The dioxide, hydrocarbons, and other contaminants
mechanical connections between the pumping chambers removable by adsorption
and the crankcase on truly oil-free machines are carefully 3. Activated charcoal section for removal of residual
designed to prevent the migration of crankcase oil into the odors and tastes
pumping chambers. The all-purpose crankcase lubricant 4. Hopcalite® section for carbon monoxide removal
recommended by the manufacturer can usually be used for
oil-free compressors. The compressors used to provide The Hopcalite® oxidizes the carbon monoxide to car-
breathing air in hospitals are of the oil-free type, but these bon dioxide. Hopcalite® is a true catalyst in this reaction
machines are not widely used in operational diving. and is neither consumed nor exhausted in the process. The
In a typical three-stage compressor, the air is taken amount of carbon dioxide produced by the catalytic action
from ambient pressure to approximately 2,250 psi. Com- is so small as to be physiologically insignificant. The
pressors typically use a ratio of 6:1, although this may vary amount of oxygen consumed is approximately 0.5 parts of
with different makes and models of compressors. Each suc- oxygen per million parts of carbon monoxide, which has
ceeding cylinder is proportionately smaller in volume than no appreciable effect on the air produced. The lifetime of
the previous one. Some efficiency (approximately ten per- this system is usually determined by the lifetime of the
cent) is lost because of the volume of the intercoolers and dessicant, since Hopcalite® is quickly “poisoned” and ren-
residual cylinder volumes; this factor is called volumetric dered ineffective by excessive water vapor. An aspect of
efficiency. Intercoolers cool the air before further recom- this process that is not widely understood is that the carbon
pression and cause water and oil vapor to condense and monoxide oxidation process releases substantial quantities
collect as the air passes through the air/liquid separator at of heat. If a Hopcalite® filter becomes extremely hot or
the discharge end of the intercooler. shows signs of discoloration, the compressor output air
Air leaving a compressor must be cooled and passed should be checked for elevated carbon monoxide levels.
through an air/liquid separator to remove any condensed In addition to Hopcalite®, the use of activated alumina
water and oil vapors before storage or immediate use. The in combination with Multi-sorb® is also widespread. No
separator is fitted with a drain valve that must be opened matter what technique is employed, the location of the
periodically to drain accumulated liquids. Air from an oil- compressor intake with respect to possible sources of cont-
free compressor does not generally require any further treat- amination is an important factor in ensuring satisfactory
ment unless the application requires that it be further dried air quality. Compressors should not be operated near the
or there is concern about possible contamination of the exhausts of internal combustion engines, sewer manholes,
intake air. Air from an oil-lubricated compressor must be sandblasting or painting operations, electric arcs, or
carefully filtered to remove any possible oil mist, oil vapors, sources of smoke. Plastic containers of volatile liquids can
possible by-products from oil oxidation in the compressor give off fumes even when they are tightly closed and thus
(predominantly carbon monoxide), or odors. Several types should be kept clear of compressor intakes. Intakes must be
of filtration systems are available. To use most filtration provided with filters for removing dust and other particles.
agents properly, it is necessary to place them in the filtration Proper orientation to wind direction is also critical in set-
system in a specific order. To do this, the direction of the air ting up air compressor systems.
flow through the filter system must be known, and, if there The final step in the production of pure air is the fill-
is any doubt, it should be checked. Like other high-pressure ing station, usually located in a dive shop, on board ship,
components, filter canisters should be inspected visually for or near a diving installation. It is important for the diver
corrosion damage (High 1987). to inspect the filling station to ensure that proper safety
For purposes of dehydration and adsorption, substances precautions are being observed and that federal, state,
known as molecular sieves are often used. A molecular sieve and local regulations are being followed. Figure 5.22 is a
is a material having an extremely large surface area to schematic of the processing of air from the intake to the

Diver and Diving Support Equipment 5-15

Back Pressure
Pressure Gauge Valve
Air Intake Auto Air Distribution Panel

Check Valve
Relief Valve Valve

High Pressure Air Booster

Magnetic Starter
Final Moisture Separator
& Hour Meter

Pressure Switch
Valve Chemical Filters

Auto Air
Moisture Separator
Fill Panel
Auto Condensate Dump
Low Oil Level Switch
High Pressure Lines Filler Valves
Electrical Lines for Scuba Cylinders
Air Storage Cylinders

Schematic of the Production of DiverÕs Breathing Air

scuba cylinder. (Note that the system depicted in Figure on either an hours-of-operation or time basis. Filters have a
5.22 includes a high-pressure booster pump, which can recommended shelf life and, therefore, should be examined
increase the efficiency of cylinder filling operations by and replaced in accordance with the manufacturer’s speci-
providing air at the filling station at a pressure above that fications. The compressor lubricant and mechanical parts
of the air storage cylinder.) should be replaced on a rigorous schedule, based on the
For some diving operations, air is supplied by the manufacturer’s recommendations or the results of an air
manufacturer in banks of high-pressure cylinders. These analysis. Analysis of the output air from compressor sys-
cylinder banks are fitted with specific valves according to tems should be performed twice a year. Oil mist analysis is
the type of gas contained and may be used to provide difficult to perform and requires careful collection tech-
breathing air in surface-supplied diving operations and for niques as well as qualified laboratory analysis of the sam-
filling scuba cylinders. ples. Although carbon monoxide analysis, by far the most
important test to be conducted on diver’s breathing gas,
5.6.1 Maintenance can be performed in the field using colorimetric tubes, it is
Both the compressor and filter system must be main- not a substitute for accurate analysis by a reputable testing
tained properly. When running, the compressor must be laboratory.
cooled adequately, because the primary factor causing the A log should be kept for each compressor. The log
breakdown of lubricants and contamination of the com- should record all time in service, maintenance, and air
pressed air is high temperature in the compressor cylinder. analysis information.
Cylinder heads may be cooled by air blowers or water
spray systems or by cooling systems integral to the com- 5.6.2 Carbon Monoxide Monitoring Device
pressor machinery. A cylinder head temperature controller Deadly aldehydes can create false positive readings for
is valuable in eliminating the possibility of excessive cylin- carbon monoxide. The human body has a zero tolerance
der temperatures. Particular attention should be paid to for aldehydes, and they have been proven to cause cancer
draining the inter-stage and final-stage separators. Com- in laboratory animals. They are also associated with
pressors and filters are usually given routine maintenance leukemia in human beings.

5-16 NOAA Diving Manual

In response to environmental concerns, refineries have • Using an energy deflector to send explosive force in
reformulated common gasoline; the emission from engine a safe direction
exhaust contains aldehydes from methyl tertiary butyl • Regularly inspecting compressor filters and piping
ether (MTBE). Aldehydes and all single-carbon units like • Allowing only trained, authorized persons to work
hydrogen, formic acid, formaldehydes, and methanol will at the fill station
identify as carbon monoxide on a monitoring device. • Posting operating procedures and safety instructions
Whereas carbon monoxide tends to settle out on the • Having schematic diagrams of all system components
ground, aldehydes migrate upward and can contaminate including proper labeling of all valves, gauges, etc.
intakes in close proximity of a combustible type engine.
Therefore, in the placement of compressor intakes, lateral A pre-fill visual inspection determines if the cylinder
distance from the compressor exhaust fumes, or any other appears to be safe and meets legal requirements. Whenever
combustible type engine, is now more critical than vertical a problem is noted, the cylinder should be set aside for a
distance. formal inspection by a trained technician.


Oil-lubricated compressors have a small amount of oil Scuba cylinders contain the compressed breathing gas
on the interior of the cylinder’s walls which mixes with the to be used by a diver. Most cylinders for diving are of steel
air being compressed. This oil is filtered out by the com- or aluminum alloy construction, specially designed and
pressor’s filtering system. Because an improperly function- manufactured to contain compressed air safely at service
ing filter can raise temperatures sufficiently to decompose pressures usually from 2,250 to 3,500 psig or greater.
or ignite the oil, it is important to carefully select oil to be
used as a lubricant. 5.7.1 Cylinder Markings
The oil’s flashpoint (the temperature of the liquid oil at Regardless of cylinder type, data describing the cylinder
which sufficient vapors are given off to produce a flash when must be clearly stamped into the shoulder of the cylinder.
a flame is applied) and auto-ignition point (the temperature Scuba cylinders must be manufactured in accordance with
at which the oil, when mixed with air, will burn without an the precise specifications dictated by the Interstate Com-
ignition source) are both important considerations. The merce Commission (ICC) (until 1970), thereafter by the
most desirable compressor lubricants have higher-than-aver- DOT, and most recently reflected on aluminum cylinders
age flashpoints and low volatility. The oils recommended by as TC/DOT, which indicates equivalency with require-
the manufacturer of the compressor are generally the safest ments of the Transport Canada (High 1987).
and most efficient lubricants for this equipment. Regulatory changes in the more than 35 years since
scuba cylinders entered service in the United States have
5.6.4 Duties and Responsibilities produced a variety of code markings. Typically, steel cylin-
All divers have a considerable responsibility for scuba ders carry the code DOT (or ICC), 3AA (steel type), and a
cylinder safety. Approximately 90 percent of all cylinder service pressure of 2,250 psig (158 kg/cm2) or higher on the
explosions occur during the fill process. Fill station opera- first line. These marks are followed by the serial number,
tors must have federally mandated hazardous materials cylinder manufacturer’s symbol (before 1982, the symbol of the
(HAZ-MAT) training and re-training every three years (4.9 user or equipment distributor), the original hydrostatic test
CFR 172.700). In addition, OSHA requires all cylinders to date with testor’s symbol, and a plus (+) mark, which indi-
be inspected (29 CFR 1910.101 (A) ). cates that a ten percent fill over-service-pressure is allowed
The fill station itself should be made safe by incorpo- for the five-year period of the original hydrostatic test.
rating whatever protective materials or procedures that can Additional hydrostatic test dates, with the testor’s codes,
reasonably be incorporated into the system. While not all will be added on successful retest at required five-year or
of the following items are relevant to every fill station, one shorter intervals. However, since hydrostatic test facilities
should consider: rarely retest scuba cylinders appropriately to permit inclusion
of the plus mark (+) for continued ten percent overfill, few
• Placing the fill station away from work areas steel cylinders are filled in excess of the designated service
• Consulting with an engineer before constructing a pressure after the initial period. Figure 5.23 shows steel scuba
cylinder diversion device cylinder markings. The Pressed Steel Tank Company (PST)
• Configuring controls away from the cylinder fill area produces cylinders in several volumes under the DOT exemp-
• Securing high-pressure hoses and fittings at close tion E9791 having a service pressure of 3,500 psig. Japanese
intervals cylinders sold by ASAHI were introduced in the U.S. in 1999.
• Keeping the fill station away from critical building Those cylinders have the DOT authorization number E.
structural support and walls and providing a physi- Aluminum alloy scuba cylinders entered U.S. commer-
cal barrier between fill station operator and cylinder cial service in 1971 and are code-marked in a somewhat
during fill different manner than steel cylinders. Initially, DOT issued

Diver and Diving Support Equipment 5-17

Aluminum Alloy
Steel Alloy Specification

Agency Responsible Service Pressure

Initial Hydrostatic
Test Company for Standard
DOT Ð 3AA 2250 (CTC/DOT) 3AL 3000 S80 Cylinder Volume
(ICC) (3A) (DOT) (SP6498
E6498 ) (Omitted) First Hydrostatic
Serial Number PST Serial Number
Distributor P71841 Luxfer 2 85 Test and Company
(DACOR) Mark
073440 ( 5 81)
4 CL 83 + Initial Test
Manufacturer Showing Tester's
NOTE: There are three major manufacturers of steel scuba cylinders
in the United States. Their names and symbols are shown below Mark, with
Manufacturer Manufacturer Manufacturer Manufacturer
Manufacturer Manufacturer Manufacturer Manufacturer Symbol Official Mark Inspection Service Manufacturer's
Symbol Official Mark Inspection Service
Alcan Aluminum Industrial Analysis
Mark Separating
Pressed Steel PST Industrial Analysis Test Month
Luxfer T. H. Cochrane
Walter Kidde K or WK T. H. Cochrane C
Laboratory and Year
or WK&Co.
CL Laboratory Walter Kidde K or WK
or WK&Co.
Norris Industries Arrowhead Industrial Service
N A H or Hunt Inspection Norris Industries N A H Arrowhead Industrial Service
or Hunt Inspection

Steel Cylinder Markings Aluminum Cylinder Markings

Cylinder Markings

special permits or exemptions for the manufacture of alu- NOTE

minum cylinders. These are indicated in some code mark- For long-term storage (i.e., more than 90 days), cylin-
ings as SP6498 or E6498, followed by the service pressure, ders should be bled to approximately 20 psig and
which typically ranges from 2,475 to 3,000 psi (174 to 211 stored with valves closed to reduce internal corrosion.
kg/cm2). No plus (+) or overfill allowance is used with
aluminum alloy cylinders. Since 1982, aluminum cylinders 5.7.2 High-Pressure Cylinders
reflect DOT and TC equivalency, the material designation High-pressure cylinders are usually made from steel or
(3AL), the service pressure, and a mark indicating volume aluminum, although prototypes of stainless steel and fiber
and that the cylinder is intended for scuba service (S80), as wound composites have appeared. Carbon steel, used in early
shown in Figure 5.23. cylinders, has been replaced with chrome molybdenum steel.
Aluminum is alloyed with other metals, such as magnesium
NOTE and titanium. Steel cylinders were introduced in the late
Aluminum alloy cylinders should never be filled in 1940s, and aluminum cylinders became popular in the 1970s,
excess of marked service pressure, and steel cylin- although the first aluminum cylinders were imported from
ders without a plus (+) after the current hydrostatic France in 1950. Table 5.3 summarizes cylinder characteristics
test date should also not be filled over their marked for a number of rated steel and aluminum cylinders. Steel
service pressure. cylinders are generally heavier and exhibit negative buoyancy
when filled with air. Aluminum cylinders are lighter and tend
The internal volume of a cylinder is a function of its to exhibit positive buoyancy before all cylinder air is depleted.
physical dimensions and may be expressed in cubic inches To recover the buoyancy characteristics of steel cylinders, alu-
or cubic feet. Of more interest is the capacity of the cylin- minum cylinders of the same size must have thicker walls,
der, which is the quantity of gas at surface pressure that increasing their weight but not their displacement.
can be compressed into the cylinder at its rated pressure.
The capacity usually is expressed in standard cubic feet or 5.7.3 Cylinder Inspection and Maintenance
standard liters of gas. Cylinders of various capacities are The exteriors of most steel cylinders are protected against
commercially available. Steel scuba cylinders generally corrosion by galvanized metal (zinc), epoxy paint, or vinyl-
have a rated working pressure of 2,250 psig (158 kg/cm2 or plastic coating. The zinc bonds to the cylinder and protects it
153 atm) to 3,500 psig. Cylinders with capacities from 26 from air and water. It is recommended that exteriors of steel
standard cubic feet (742 standard liters) to over 100 stan- cylinders be galvanized for protection against corrosion.
dard cubic feet (2,857 standard liters) are used for scuba Some cylinders, however, were painted with epoxy paints or
diving. plastics in lieu of galvanizing. A problem arises when the

5-18 NOAA Diving Manual

TABLE 5.3 Cylinders should not be placed in a water bath for filling.
Cylinder Specifications The risk of water entering a cylinder while immersed in
water and the resulting corrosion is potentially more haz-
Volume Pressure Length Diameter Weight Buoyancy ardous than the risk of over-heating during filling. Moisture
Material (ft3) (psi) (in) (in) (lbs) (lbs)
in a cylinder often can be detected by (1) the presence of a
Steel 15 3300 13.80 4.00 7.5 -1.30 whitish mist when the valve is opened; (2) the sound of slosh-
Aluminum 14 2015 16.60 4.40 5.4 3.22
Aluminum 50 3000 19.00 6.90 21.5 2.25
ing water when the cylinder is tipped back and forth; or (3) a
Steel 50 1980 22.50 6.80 20.8 2.43 damp or metallic odor to the air in the cylinder. Water in a
Steel 72 2475 25.00 6.80 29.5 3.48 cylinder can create a particularly dangerous condition in cold
Aluminum 72 3000 26.00 6.90 28.5 3.60
Aluminum 80 3000 26.40 7.25 33.3 4.00 water diving, since ice can form in the first stage or in the
Aluminum 80 3000 27.00 7.25 34.5 4.12 hose prior to the second stage valve, causing the flow of air to
Steel 95 3300 25.00 7.00 39.1 -6.11
the diver to be interrupted.
Both steel and aluminum cylinders should be inspected
painted coating is scratched or chipped, exposing the bare internally by a trained technician at least once a year for
metal underneath to water resulting in oxidation (corro- damage and corrosion. Cylinders should be inspected more
sion). Consequently, non-galvanized steel cylinders should frequently if they are used in a tropical climate, if they receive
not be used. Epoxy paint or plastic over zinc-galvanized especially hard service, or if flooding is suspected. A special
surfaces is acceptable, however, because it reduces elec- rod-type low-voltage light that illuminates the entire inside of
trolytic corrosion of the zinc by salt water and imparts an the cylinder should be used for internal visual inspection (see
attractive appearance. With proper preventive maintenance, Figure 5.24). Standards and procedures for the visual inspec-
electrolytic corrosion is relatively insignificant on bare zinc tion of compressed gas cylinders are discussed in detail in
coating. High (1987).
Since internal corrosion is a problem, manufacturers Two forms of inspection are used, depending on the inter-
formerly applied protective linings on the interiors of steel val since the previous inspection or the nature of the suspected
cylinders. The use of internal coatings has only been rela- problem. An informal inspection is a cursory look at a scuba
tively successful, because even a small flaw in the lining cylinder’s exterior and interior to determine if there is a reason
allows moisture in the cylinder to penetrate to bare metal. to examine it further. A formal inspection is a complete evalua-
Corrosion under the lining cannot be seen or assessed. tion against standards, in which a judgment is reached and
Also, the lining becomes unbonded and, in some cases, the evidence of the inspection is affixed to the cylinder in the form
resulting flakes clogged the valve or the regulator. Dam- of a sticker that attests to the cylinder’s suitability for contin-
aged linings must be removed. ued use. The sticker should indicate the standard used, the
A corrosion-inhibiting epoxy-polyester finish is usual- date of inspection, and the person conducting the inspection.
ly applied to the exterior of aluminum cylinders both to The visual cylinder inspection procedure is neither com-
protect them and to give them an attractive color. If this plex nor time consuming, but should be performed only by
coating scrapes off, an oxide layer forms that tends to persons properly trained and using appropriate tools.
protect the cylinder from further corrosion. In the past, In general, the cylinder exterior should be compared to
the interiors of some aluminum cylinders received a pro- standards for:
tective layer over the base metal, such as Alrock ® or
Irridite ® , which was applied during the fabrication • Cuts, gouges, corrosion (general, pitting line), and
process. Aluminum scuba cylinders no longer receive any stress lines
interior treatment. • Dents or bulges
Air cylinders and high-pressure manifolds should be • Signs of heat damage
rinsed thoroughly with fresh water after each use to remove • General abuse
traces of salt and other deposits. The exterior of the cylinder • Condition of coating
should be visually inspected for abrasion, dents, and corro- • Current hydrostatic test date
sion. If the cylinder has deep abrasions or dents, it should be
examined by a trained inspector before refilling; external cor- Interior cylinder evaluations to standards should assess:
rosion should be removed and a protective coating applied to
prevent further deterioration of the cylinder wall. Care also • Type and amount of cylinder contents (if any)
must be taken to prevent moisture accumulation inside high- • Magnitude of general pitting or line corrosion
pressure cylinders. Cylinders used under water as a source of • Thread integrity
air for power tools or for lift bags often become contaminated • Defects in interior coating (if any)
by moisture returning through the valve. Any cylinder • Sign(s) of substantial material removal
allowed to bleed pressure to zero in the water should not be • Internal neck cracks (aluminum cylinders)
refilled until it is inspected by a trained technician. Cylinders
should be stored with a minimum of 20 psi of air remaining There are several methods of hydrostatic testing of cylin-
in the cylinder to keep moisture from entering the cylinder. ders, including direct expansion, pressure recession, and the

Diver and Diving Support Equipment 5-19

(i.e., 90 days), cylinders should be bled to 20 psig and
stored with valves closed to reduce internal corrosion.
There is a potential for moist ambient air to pass through
the open valve into an empty cylinder as air temperatures
change. If there is moisture in the cylinder, air at the
FIGURE 5.24 higher pressure (higher partial pressure of oxygen) accel-
Internal Inspection erates corrosion.
of a Scuba Cylinder However, a greater danger exists when partially filled
aluminum cylinders are exposed to heat, as might occur
during a building fire. The metal can soften before the tem-
perature-raised pressure reaches that necessary to burst the
frangible safety disk. An explosion may occur well below
the cylinder service pressure.
Rules for the use of scuba cylinders:

1. Do not fill high-pressure cylinders if the date of the

last hydrostatic test has expired (five years for steel
and aluminum cylinders) or if more than one year
has passed since the last formal visual inspection.
2. Charge cylinder at 300-600 psig/min to prevent
excessive heat buildup.
3. Never exceed the maximum allowable pressure for
any particular cylinder.
4. Never perform maintenance or repairs on a cylin-
der valve while the cylinder is charged.
5. Handle charged cylinders carefully. Handling by
the valve or body is preferred. Handling by straps
or backpack may allow the cylinder to slip or drop.
6. Store charged cylinders in an upright position in a
cool, shady place to prevent overheating.
7. Secure cylinders properly to prevent falling or
8. Internal inspections, hydrostatic tests, and repair
work should be performed only by trained techni-
9. Have cylinders visually inspected for interior dete-
rioration annually (or more frequently, depending
on use).
10. Inspect cylinders externally before and after each
dive for signs of general pitting or line corrosion,
dents, cracks, or other damage. Never use a weld-
ed, fire-damaged, uninspected, gouged, or scarred
water jacket method. The most common method is the water cylinder.
jacket method, which involves filling the cylinder with water, 11. Remove cylinder boot frequently to inspect for cor-
placing it in a water-filled pressure chamber, raising the pres- rosion. Boots that inhibit rapid draining and drying
sure inside the cylinder with a hydraulic pump, and measur- should not be used because they allow water to
ing the amount of cylinder expansion in terms of water remain in contact with the cylinder, forming corro-
column displacement. The pressure is increased to 5/3 the sion.
rated pressure of the cylinder, except for PST steel cylinders 12. Do not completely drain the cylinder of air during
manufactured under the E9791 permit. These 3,500 psig dives. Some residual air pressure prevents moisture
cylinders are tested to 3/2 service pressure. According to from entering the cylinder.
DOT regulations, a permanent expansion of 10% or more of
the total expansion indicates that the cylinder is unsafe for WARNING
use and should be condemned. ALUMINUM CYLINDERS THAT HAVE BEEN
Scuba cylinders may be stored at full pressure for EXPOSED TO HEAT ABOVE 350¡F (177C) SHOULD
short periods of time. However, for long-term storage BE REMOVED FROM SERVICE.

5-20 NOAA Diving Manual

Only this brass
Handwheel slug moves back
Nut and forth


Handwheel Thin Edges (necessary for an effective seal)

Teflon Washer Brass Slug

Nut Stem

Valve Seat

Tiny O-ring
Opening and closing a valve with excessive force will damage the valve seat.

Valve Seats

5.7.4 Sustained Load Cracking (SLC) in 6351 5.7.5 Cylinder Valve and Manifold Assembly
Aluminum Alloy Cylinders Open-circuit scuba cylinders are normally worn on a
Sustained Load Cracking, a metallurgical anomaly, diver’s back with the manifold/valve assembly up. The
occasionally develops in high-pressure aluminum cylinders demand valve or second stage of the single-hose regulator is
made from 6351-alloy and may lead to explosive rupture. positioned at the diver’s mouth, regardless of cylinder orienta-
Both Walter Kidde and Luxfer (1972 to June, 1988) used tion. The first stage must be kept in close proximity to the
6351-alloy. The standard inspection method to examine diver’s lungs to ensure a minimum hydrostatic pressure differ-
the cylinder thread area for cracks or corrosion damage ential between demand valve and respiratory organs, regard-
uses a magnifying mirror and light source. Although most less of diver orientation. If this is not achieved, the diver’s
flawed cylinders with SLC have been identified by this respiratory system must work harder than necessary to over-
method, a means to verify findings was desired. come this differential during inhalation (or exhalation,
In 1996 an eddy-current device was introduced as an depending on orientation).
additional tool for inspectors to detect occasional early, dif- If the diver’s air is to be supplied by two or more cylinders
ficult-to-observe SLC. Sold under the brand name Visual simultaneously, a manifold assembly is employed to join the
Plus, it was followed in 1999 by a nearly identical unit, cylinders and provide a common outlet. The manifold con-
Visual Eddy. A third design is sold under the brand name sists of sections of high-pressure piping and appropriate fit-
Simple Eddy. tings specially configured and threaded to incorporate two or
Each device is capable of locating early cracking but more cylinders, a valve and frangible burst disk into a single
also may produce false positive readings when improperly functional unit.
operated or when the cylinder thread areas being tested are The cylinder valve assembly is a simple, manually operat-
inadequately cleaned. These devices should not be used on ed, multiple-turn valve that controls the flow of high-pressure
steel cylinders nor are they required for aluminum cylin- gas from the scuba cylinder (see Figure 5.25). It also is the
ders made from 6061-alloy. point of attachment for the demand regulator. After the regu-
Another recently developed auxiliary tool, the Tank lator has been attached to the cylinder valve and just before
Inspection Pipe (TIP) (see Figure 5.24, bottom), is an excel- using the apparatus, the valve is opened fully and then backed
lent way to examine magnified, brightly lit cylinder threads. off one-fourth of a turn. It remains open throughout the dive.
Cylinder inspectors should communicate with cylinder On completion of the dive, the cylinder valve is closed and
manufacturers to ensure they have the most current cylin- should be bled to atmospheric pressure, which prevents the O-
der service and safety notices. ring from blowing out when the regulator is removed.

Diver and Diving Support Equipment 5-21

Burst Disk


K-Valve and J-Valve
Safety Hole
(Under Flange)
not manually released. The remaining or reserve air can
Valve Snorkel be released by manually overriding the spring-loaded
check valve. The K-valve is an open-closed valve with no
reserve mechanism.


Cylinder Valve Safety Features The reserve valve lever must be in the ÒdownÓ posi-
tion when charging cylinders.
When a single cylinder supplies diver’s air, the cylinder
valve unit is generally sealed directly into the neck of the When a diver depresses the cylinder valve/manifold-
cylinder by a straight-threaded male connection containing a mounted reserve lever, a plunger pin within the reserve
neoprene O-ring on the valve body. Most cylinders placed in valve advances, forcing the flow check to back off the ori-
service before 1960 were fitted with a valve having a 0.5-inch fice against the action of the spring. The remaining 300 or
tapered thread without O-rings. When a single cylinder is uti- 500 psi (23 or 30 kg/cm2) of air is then made available to
lized, the cylinder valve assembly houses a high-pressure the diver.
burst disk as a safety feature to prevent cylinder pressure Divers should be aware that the availability and duration
from reaching a critical level during charging or under condi- of the reserve air supplied through a reserve valve are depen-
tions of elevated temperature. Old-style lead-filled blowout dent on the number of cylinders carried, the depth of the dive
plugs must be replaced with modern frangible disk assem- and the diver’s RMV. The 300 psi (23 kg/cm2) reserve avail-
blies (see Figure 5.26). When twin cylinders are used, two able is at actual cylinder pressure; it is not 300 psi above
separate burst disc assemblies must be installed in the mani- ambient pressure. Thus, at a depth of 100 ft. (ambient pres-
fold. Valve manufacturers use burst disks designed to rup- sure of approximately 50 psi), only 250 psi (17 kg/cm2) is
ture around the cylinder’s hydrostatic test pressure. The available until the diver starts to ascend. Also, the reserve
rating may be stamped on the face of the burst disk assembly valve mechanism retains a reserve air supply only in one
to prevent confusion, and disks of different pressure ratings cylinder of a twin set of cylinders; the other cylinder or cylin-
must not be used interchangeably. Valves are not inter- ders are at a lower pressure when the reserve valve trips.
changeable between cylinders having different service pres- When the reserve mechanism is activated, the reserve air dis-
sures unless their respective burst disk assemblies are also tributes itself proportionately in all cylinders. For this reason,
interchanged. the reserve valve mechanism employed with twin cylinders
must be set to provide a 500-psi reserve. Unfortunately,
5.7.6 Reserve Valve though generally reliable, the reserve valve mechanism is
The reserve valve (also called a J-valve), illustrated in subject to physical damage or mechanical failure and, if
Figure 5.27, is a spring-loaded check valve that begins to moved as little as 1/8” to 1/4”, may be tripped inadvertently
close as the cylinder pressure approaches a predetermined early in the dive, which allows the reserve air to be exhausted
level, generally 300 or 500 psi (23 or 30 kg/cm2). Until without the diver’s knowledge. Thus, the diver should con-
this pressure is approached, the reserve valve permits an tinuously monitor his reserve valve and submersible pressure
unrestricted flow of air to the regulator throughout the gauge during the dive.
dive. At the predetermined pressure, a spring forces a
flow check against the port orifice and restricts the air NOTE
flow, causing increased breathing resistance. This is fol- Reserve valves should be inspected annually for
lowed by total obstruction of air flow if the reserve air is defects or whenever a malfunction is suspected.

5-22 NOAA Diving Manual

Fill Station


Air Fill Control Panel With Fill Hoses Typical Fill Times

IN STORAGE 83 cu. ft. 71.2 cu. ft. 71.2 cu. ft. 80 cu. ft.
For some scientific surface-supplied diving operations, (AFTER to to to to
a high-pressure air storage system may be better than a EQUALIZING IN 3,000 psi 2,475 psi 2,250 psi 4,400 psi
low-pressure compressor system. In some cases, the size of DIVE TANK)
the surface support platform dictates the type of gas supply 2,500 psi 12 sec. 60 sec.
system to use. A high-pressure system can be tailored con- 2,250 psi 28 sec. 14 sec. 90 sec.
veniently to the requirements of a particular operation, and 2,000 psi 39 sec. 22 sec. 12 sec.
offers the additional advantage of reduced noise and 1,500 psi 75 sec. 50 sec. 35 sec.
improved communication. The planning factors that influ-
ence the configuration of a high-pressure air storage system
• Depth of the planned dive Booster pumps “boost” medium pressure storage gas (air,
• Number of divers to be supplied and the anticipated nitrox, oxygen) directly into dive cylinders to higher pressures
exertion level rapidly. An example would be taking a pressure of 2,250 psi
• Type of breathing apparatus (free flow or demand) to 4,400 psi in a 80 cu. ft. cylinder in 60 seconds (see Table 5.4
• Size of the surface support platform and Figures 5.30, 5.31). This system of increasing pressure to
A complete system includes high-pressure cylinders a higher range provides cooler operation on medium pressure
(200–350 standard cubic foot size), the necessary piping and compressors which will extend time between overhauls of
manifolds, a pressure-reduction regulator, and a volume tank compressors. Gas booster pump benefits:
(at least one cubic foot volume) (see Figures 5.28, 5.29). A
high-pressure filter should always be incorporated into or be • Cooler operation to extend time between overhauls
located just upstream of each pressure regulator. Filter ele- by thousands of hours regardless of compressor
ments should be of the woven-metal cloth type and should nameplate rating
have a collapse pressure rating greater than the maximum • Lower cost storage cylinders, purifier units, compres-
possible pressure differential. A high-pressure gauge must be sors, motors and piping
located ahead of the pressure reduction regulator, and a low- • Provides 2,500 psi up to 5,000 psi scuba cylinder fills
pressure gauge must be connected to the volume cylinder.
The volume tank must be fitted with an overpressure relief WARNING
valve. A manually controlled regulator by-pass valve or a HIGH-PRESSURE GAS CAN BE DANGEROUS IF
redundant regulator with its own filter also should be included IMPROPERLY HANDLED.
in the system.
NOTE Maximum “net” boost is 2,250 psig. In practice (for
If cylinder banks are used as a back-up to a com- reasonable fill speed), consider 2,000 psi as maxi-
pressor supply, the bank must be manifolded with mum “net.” For example, storage pressure should be
the primary source so that an immediate switch no less than 1,000 psi to top off 3,000 psi scuba cylin-
from primary to secondary air is possible. ders or 2,400 psi to top off 4,400 psi scuba cylinders.

Diver and Diving Support Equipment 5-23

SIZE: 15 in X 15 in X 20 in
Positive maximum pressure setting
adjustment 1,000 to 5,000 psi range
WEIGHT: 50 lbs. (Approx.) with independent safety relief valve.
BOOSTED Two styles of pressure gauges can be used to determine
the amount of air in a scuba cylinder. A surface cylinder
Directly to
dive tank pressure gauge is used to check the amount of air in a cylin-
up to
4,400 psi. der on the surface. This type of gauge fits over the cylinder
manifold outlet, attaches in the same manner as a regulator,
and provides a discrete check of the pressure in a cylinder. A
pressure release valve is installed on the gauge so that air
AIR IN trapped in the gauge can be relieved after a reading has been
taken and the cylinder has been closed. These small dial
From existing
compressor gauge movements are designed with an accuracy of ± 100
stroage bank
up to 2,800 psi. psi but may become less accurate with use.
The submersible cylinder pressure gauge attaches
directly to the first stage of a scuba regulator by a length of
Pressure and Safety Controls on Booster Pump
high-pressure rubber hose. These gauges provide divers
Drive Air Pilot Valve
Poppet design, all stainless
steel with molded Buna-N Seal
Drive Section Caps
High strength Drive Air Piston(s)
aluminum High-strength anodized
aluminum. Unique minimum
friction dynamic seal

Connecting Rod

Drive Air Drive Section Air Barrel

Inlet Port Reinforced plastic
No air line
lubrication Vent Between Dual
required Seals on Connecting
Drive Air Cycling
Filtered Breather to
Low inertia aluminum Chamber Behind High-
spool within stainless Pressure Piston(s)
steel sleeve. Air pilot
shifted Ñ no springs. Drive Exhaust Muffler
Minimum friction, yet
Helps cool high-pressure
no air leakage.
Drive Air Exhaust Tube
High-Pressure Cylinder(s)
15-5 PH stainless steel
High-Pressure Piston(s)
High-Pressure Check Valves
High-Pressure Seals and Bearings Spring loaded poppets. Seats
Operates dry without any lubrication optically lapped.
Cooling Jacket
Breathing Air (or Oxygen) Inlet Breathing Air (or Oxygen) Outlet

High-Pressure End Cap

Boosters consist of a large area reciprocating air-drive directly coupled by a connecting rod to a small area gas piston. The gas piston
operates in a high-pressure gas barrel section. Each gas barrel end cap contains high-pressure inlet and outlet check valves. The air-drive
section includes a cycling spool and pilot valves that provide continuous reciprocating action when air is supplied to the air-drive inlet. Iso-
lation of the gas compression chambers from the air-drive section is provided by three sets of dynamic seals. The intervening two cham-
bers are vented to atmosphere. This design prevents air-drive contamination from entering the gas stream. Cooling is provided by routing
the cold exhausted drive air through an individual jacket surrounding the gas barrel and also through an intercooler on the interstage line.

Oil-Free Air-Driven Gas Booster

5-24 NOAA Diving Manual

Submersible Pressure Gauge

they are not precision laboratory

The gauge dial face should be
easy to read and should have high-
contrast markings. Most mechanical
gauges have a luminous dial that is
easy to read at night. Electronic
gauges frequently have a back-light
feature that can be turned on
FIGURE 5.32 momentarily when needed.
Bourdon Tube Miniature submersible pressure
Mechanism in SPGs gauges are available that connect
directly to the first stage of a regulator without an interven-
ing high-pressure hose (see Figure 5.33). These gauges are
with a continual readout of their remaining air. Many units ideal for use with a bail-out cylinder or in other situations
have a console that holds the compass, depth gauge, and where a hoseless gauge is desirable.
cylinder pressure gauge. These consoles free the diver's The only maintenance that a submersible pressure
arms from encumbrances. gauge needs is a freshwater rinse after use. To prevent
Some type of submersible pressure gauge, whether it is internal deterioration and corrosion of a surface gauge, the
mechanical or electronic, is essential for diving. In many dust cap that covers the high-pressure inlet must be firmly
cases today, manufacturers are offering air integrated dive in place. Submersible pressure gauges should be handled
computers that monitor both air pressure and bottom time with care, should be stored securely when not in use, and
to compute remaining dive time. However, some divers should be tested annually by a qualified testing technician.
prefer to keep their instruments separate so that if one
device fails, the other is not compromised. 5.10.1 Use of Submersible Pressure Gauge
Inside the mechanical submersible pressure gauge, Use of a submersible cylinder pressure gauge (see Fig-
one end of the pressure reading tube is sealed and is ure 5.34) is a requirement in nearly all recreational and sci-
allowed to move; the other end is held fixed and is con- entific diving. These gauges have largely replaced constant
nected to a high-pressure air supply. As the air pressure reserve valves and audio systems. When reading a gauge is
increases, the bourdon tube tends to straighten out or to difficult, as is the case in low-visibility conditions, a reserve
uncurl slightly (see Figure 5.32). This movement causes “J” valve can be carried as well. In addition, dial faces that
the needle on the gauge face to turn. Although gauges glow in the dark increase gauge readability under marginal
currently in use are designed to be accurate and reliable, light conditions. Some newer gauges are able to provide
data on the amount of time remaining for the dive at the
current breathing gas consumption rate. This feature calcu-
lates the pressure drop in the cylinder over time and pre-
dicts the amount of air time remaining, assuming a
continued constant rate of use. However, divers should be
aware that changing their respiration rates can dramatically
alter the amount of time remaining at low cylinder pres-
sures or when diving at deep depths.
The use of consoles that allow other types of gauges to
be added to the submersible pressure gauge has increased
the amount of information that can be obtained when a
diver monitors the submersible cylinder pressure gauge.
Maximum depth indicators, bottom timers, and compasses
FIGURE 5.33 are now commonly associated with pressure gauges. How-
Miniature Submersible ever, this use of console gauge holders has added consider-
Pressure Gauges ably to the mass of the high-pressure hose end, and the

Diver and Diving Support Equipment 5-25

hose and gauge must be positioned carefully as a result; the The buoyancy compensator is not a lifesaving device
high-pressure hose can be run inside the waist strap on the and cannot be relied upon to float the diver face up in the
back pack so that the gauges are located on the thigh in a water. In addition, any buoyancy compensator may fail to
readable position. When worn improperly, a submersible hold air due to damage or lack of maintenance. For a diver
pressure gauge positioned at the end of a 2- to 3-foot (0.6 to wearing a weight belt and weights, in an emergency, the
0.9 m) length of high-pressure hose can increase the chance only reasonably certain way to increase positive buoyancy
that a diver will foul on bottom debris or become entangled is to drop the weight belt.
with equipment. The gauge supply hose must be connected The buoyancy compensator is critical to making buoy-
to a high-pressure port with compatible threads or be used ancy adjustments throughout each dive. Prior to the dive,
with an adapter. the diver should perform a predive inspection of function-
The high-pressure hose normally has chrome-plated ality of the BC, including hoses, connections, over-pressur-
brass fittings with a restricting orifice. Should the high- ization valve, power inflator, etc. For surface swimming,
pressure hose rupture, this orifice prevents rapid loss of the diver will normally want to have just enough air in the
cylinder air and allows the diver time to abort the dive and buoyancy compensator to be positively buoyant. At the
surface. Care must be taken to keep water from getting into start of the descent, the diver releases just enough air from
the first stage of the regulator before the cylinder valve is the buoyancy compensator to start to sink. While swim-
opened, because otherwise water could be blown into the ming under water, the amount of air in the buoyancy com-
submersible pressure gauge and other regulator parts. pensator is adjusted to make the diver neutrally buoyant.
Divers also should never submerge their scuba cylinders While working on the bottom, the diver will frequently
when the valve is off and there is no pressure in the want to be negatively buoyant for added stability while tak-
attached regulator. ing photographs or writing on an underwater slate.
Gauge readings that err by as much as 300 psi (23 kg/
cm2) or more may occur because gauge accuracy declines
with use, especially if small amounts of water have entered
the mechanism. Divers should compare their gauges to
known cylinder pressures regularly; gauges should be
checked at various pressures. Professional dive facilities Submersible
often use gauges in their high-pressure air systems that are Cylinder
accurate to one or two percent so they can make cylinders Pressure
with known pressures available to their customers for com- Gauges
parison. All submersible pressure gauges (see Figure 5.35)
used by NOAA divers are inspected and tested yearly by a
trained technician.


Because the accuracy of the slow indicator needle

declines during normal use, the needle on a defective unit
might stick, which could cause the pressure reading to be
higher than it actually is. Divers in the field can assess the
adequacy of submersible gauge needle function by releas- Surface
ing pressure from the gauge over a three-minute period Cylinder
while they observe the needle for erratic movement. Defec- Pressure
tive gauges must be serviced for replacement of parts. Gauge


The buoyancy compensator, frequently referred to as a
“BC” or “BCD” (buoyancy control device), was designed
to allow the diver to make adjustments to his buoyancy. FIGURE 5.35
This can be done under water or on the surface. Gauges

5-26 NOAA Diving Manual

Almost all buoyancy compensators include the follow-
ing components in their design:

• An air bladder, or “air cell,” which can be inflated or

• An airway or corrugated inflator hose
• A mouthpiece for adding air orally and venting air
• A power inflator for adding low pressure air from
the regulator
• A safety harness and buckles, or straps, for attaching FIGURE 5.37
the buoyancy compensator to the diver’s body Back-Mounted
• An overpressure relief valve for relieving air Buoyancy
pressure Compensator

Buoyancy compensators vary widely in design, but air bladder. The bladder collapses when the air is vented
most conform to either the “jacket” style, which wraps from it, reducing it to an extremely compact size that
the diver in buoyancy or the “back-mounted” design, renders very little drag.
and places all of the buoyancy behind the diver. Nearly The back-mounted buoyancy compensator (also
all buoyancy compensators, with the exception of the referred to as “wings”) is good for working in a vertical
“horse-collar” design, include a cylinder band for position in the water or swimming horizontally (see Fig-
mounting the scuba cylinder. ure 5.37). On the surface, a back-mounted BC will tend
Original buoyancy compensators (see Figure 5.36), to push the diver into a face down position.
developed in the late 1960s, were of the “horse-collar” Jacket-style buoyancy compensators usually include
design. The horse-collar design places all of the buoyan- a bladder that places some of the buoyancy in front of
cy in front of the diver and can usually be relied upon to the diver around his waist and some of the buoyancy
float the diver face up in most situations. This design behind the diver (see Figure 5.38). This design is very
makes it more difficult for the diver who is trying to comfortable to wear and offers good stability. It is a
swim horizontally or work vertically under water good compromise for allowing the diver to work com-
fortably in a variety of positions. Jacket-style buoyancy
because the buoyancy of the unit tends to roll the diver
compensators tend to have more drag than back-mount-
backwards. If a horsecollar BC is used, the diver must
ed buoyancy compensators.
use a separate backpack to support and secure the cylin-
The cylinder band that secures the cylinder to the buoy-
der on his back.
ancy compensator may attach to a metal or hard plastic
Back-mounted buoyancy compensators put the air
plate, or it may connect directly to the soft fabric of the BC
bladder behind the diver, leaving fewer straps and
itself. In any case, the cylinder band is almost always made
obstructions on the diver’s chest. Many back-mounted
of stiff nylon webbing. The webbing must be threaded cor-
BCs are made using a stretchy material to constrict the rectly through the buckle to prevent the cylinder from slip-
ping out of the band. The webbing and BC must be soaked
in water prior to adjusting the band to hold the cylinder or
the band will loosen once it becomes wet and the cylinder

Original FIGURE 5.38
Horsecollar Jacket-style
Buoyancy Buoyancy
Compensator Compensator

Diver and Diving Support Equipment 5-27

will fall out of the band. Instructions for threading the cylin-
der band are usually attached to the band itself.
Some models of buoyancy compensators include
integrated weight systems, where the weights are con-
tained in pockets in the BC. This design eliminates the
need for a separate weight belt. One advantage to the
weight integrated BC is that it prevents the buoyancy
compensator from floating up on the diver’s body.
Some divers find an integrated weight system more
comfortable than wearing a weight belt because it helps
eliminate the bruising that may occur from contact with
the weights. Integrated weight systems also transfer the FIGURE 5.40
weight from the diver’s hips to his shoulders, which Dual Point Release
helps to reduce back stress. For transporting the BC, it System
may be desirable to remove the weights from the BC
rather than dealing with the combined weight of the BC,
cylinder, and weights. Some models of buoyancy compensators come in
Some divers who use integrated BCs prefer to split standard sizes, such as x-small, small, medium, large,
their weights between the BC and weight belt, placing a and x-large. Others may be customized with different
small amount of weight in the BC and the balance on size components or widely adjustable waist belts and
their belt. This reduced weight will usually still hold the shoulder straps. Customization will usually provide a
BC down, without the bulk that sometimes occurs by better fit but is usually more expensive.
filling the BC with the total compliment of weights nor- Certain models of BCs are equipped with stainless
mally used to dive. steel D-rings which can be used as an attachment point
Integrated weight systems are usually supplied with for lights, instruments, and tools. Almost every BC also
either a single point release (see Figure 5.39) or a dual has an accessory pocket where small items may be stored.
point release. With a single point release, one pull will Many BCs are equipped with a remote exhaust
normally ditch all of the weights contained in the BC. mechanism which is activated by a stainless steel cable
Advantages to this design are that ditching the weights running on the inside of the corrugated inflator hose.
is extremely rapid and ditching can be accomplished The remote exhaust is positioned on the shoulder end of
with one hand. the inflator hose. By pulling down on the inflator hose,
Dual point release mechanisms usually require both the stainless cable is pulled and opens the remote
hands and only ditch half the weights which are normal- exhaust that vents the buoyancy compensator.
ly distributed on the left and right sides of the diver’s The question frequently arises as to how much lift is
body (see Figure 5.40). The value of this design is that in needed for a buoyancy compensator. In most situations,
many cases, only half the weights may need to be the diver needs very little lift, beyond that needed to
ditched in order to establish positive buoyancy. When establish positive buoyancy for himself when fully geared
only half the weights are ditched, the diver’s ascent will up. For the average diver who is properly weighted and
usually not be as rapid as when all the weights are using a single cylinder, the diver normally does not need
ditched. Dual point release mechanisms should only be more than 20-30 pounds of lift. However, cold water
used by experienced divers with advanced training. divers wearing thick wet suits, or dry suits, and multiple
high-pressure cylinders may need considerably more lift.

Buoyancy Testing
¥ Initial (predive) test: Adjust weight to float at
FIGURE 5.39 eye level after exhalation and with no air in
Back-Mounted BC (and dry suit)
Compensator ¥ Final (end-of-dive) test: Adjust weights to be
With Single able to remain motionless at a depth of 15 ft.
with no air in BC (and dry suit) and 500 psi of
Point Weight
air in cylinder

5-28 NOAA Diving Manual

FIGURE 5.41 share a single mouthpiece by passing it back and forth, a
Power Inflator Integrated With a technique that is known as “buddy-breathing.” It also elim-
Regulator inates the need for a separate dedicated “octopus” second
Another design that is also popular utilizes a compact
second stage that plugs in between the low pressure hose
from the regulator and the quick disconnect fitting on the
Under no circumstances should power inflator. These low profile regulators are true regula-
the diver use his buoyancy com- tors and in some cases can be disconnected from the power
pensator as a lifting device for inflator and still function independently.
retrieving heavy objects (over
ten pounds) from the bottom. If 5.11.2 Maintenance of Buoyancy Compensators
the object is more than ten After diving, buoyancy compensators should be given
pounds negatively buoyant, a a thorough rinse in fresh, clean water. If possible, the
separate lift bag should be used entire BC should be submerged in a tub of water and agi-
to raise the object to the surface. tated vigorously.
The danger in using the BC as a lifting device is that, Water should be run into the mouthpiece of the power
should the diver lose control of the object, he will inflator to remove any salt and sand that may have entered
become instantly positively buoyant and can suffer a it. The exhaust button on the mouthpiece should be held
rapid ascent. Rapid ascents are dangerous and can cause open and water run inside the BC until it is at least 1/3
lung over-pressure injuries and omitted decompression. full. Following this, the BC should be turned upside down
and rotated completely several times to ensure full circula-
5.11.1 Power Inflator Mechanisms tion of the water inside it.
Almost all buoyancy compensators today are equipped Once the water has been flushed through the BC, it
with some type of low pressure power inflator (see Figures should be turned upside down again and the exhaust but-
5.41, 5.42) that uses air from the scuba cylinder to inflate ton on the mouthpiece should be held open until all the
the buoyancy compensator. Without the power inflator, it water runs out of the BC. This procedure will help to clean
is necessary for the diver to remove the regulator from his out any water that entered the BC while diving. It may be
mouth under water to blow air into the BC to achieve neu- necessary to repeat this procedure several times to thor-
tral buoyancy. This is undesirable. oughly rinse the interior of the BC. Dirty water that is
The simplest power inflators are designed to solely allowed to remain in the BC will cause bacterial growth.
add air to the buoyancy compensator and provide oral The BC should be dried by inflating it fully and hang-
inflation and venting capabilities. They are normally ing it in a location with good air circulation that is out of
equipped with a quick disconnect hose, similar to those direct sun light and other heat sources. The diver should
used on a dry suit. check to see that air has not leaked out of the BC before it
More sophisticated power inflators are available that is deflated for storage. Prior to deflating, the BC should be
also serve as an alternate air source for sharing air with a turned upside down one more time and the exhaust button
diving partner. They combine both functions into a single on the mouthpiece should be depressed to drain any water
unit. This eliminates the need for two divers to attempt to that has pooled inside of the BC.

5.11.3 Weight Belts and Weights

To offset the buoyancy of the diver’s body and other
equipment, a weight belt is usually worn while diving. The
amount of weight worn will vary from diver to diver